Comhairle Leader says school decisions ‘make mockery of local democracy’

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has said it is ‘extremely disappointed’ with the Scottish Government decision to prevent four schools being closed in the Western Isles.

The Comhairle had proposed closing Seilebost and Carloway and discontinuing s1/s2 provision at Lionel and Shawbost. However the Scottish Government called the proposals in and have now indicated that they will not support the Comhairle’s intentions.

Comhairle Leader Angus Campbell said: “This is extremely disappointing as the Comhairle went through an extensive consultation process and stuck rigorously to the guidelines laid down by the Scottish Government. I completely reject the notion that the Comhairle has failed in its obligations under the Act. I also believe there were educational benefits for the pupils in transferring.

These decisions make a mockery of local democracy. I believe it should be the democratically elected representatives of the Western Isles community who should be making decisions about local schools, not Ministers and Civil Servants in Edinburgh.

“I look forward to hearing as to when the Scottish Government will provide the additional money that will be required to keep these schools open. Alternatively, we will have to look at what services will have to be cut in order to retain these schools. Together these two primary schools and the S1/S2 provision at two schools cost the people of the Western Isles over a £1m. That will have to be found from elsewhere in Education or from other services.The Comhairle will discuss the Minister’s decisions and agree what the next steps will be.”

Chair of Education and Children’s Services, Morag Munro, said: “I am not totally surprised by these decisions, coming as they do in an election year. However, it is still disappointing that the Minister is undermining the Comhairle’s Education strategy. The Minister states that schools will only be allowed to close if there are clear educational benefits. The Minister’s reasons for refusing have nothing to do with education and the educational benefits have not been questioned. Both HMIE and Bòrd na Gàidhlig concluded that there would be educational benefits not only to the affected pupils but for all the pupils of the Western Isles.

The minister’s decisions on the primary schools are a mystery and I look forward to seeing more detail which will hopefully prove more enlightening that the Minister’s statement. On the secondary provision, the Comhairle is firmly of the view that Curriculum for Excellence cannot be delivered in the s1/s2 setting to as high a standard as in an s1-s6 setting. Children who will be attending these facilities will be the only children in Scotland not to have full access to the benefits of curriculum for excellence. I believe they will therefore be at a disadvantage and are being discriminated against by these decisions.”