On Tuesday (19 April), Argyll & Bute Council met, at its Kilmory Castle headquarters in Lochgilphead, to debate issues related to the proposed closure of a number of local primary schools.
At 11½ hours, the length of the meeting was indicative of the strength of feeling amongst – and tenacity of – those councillors who are opposed to the closure plans.
As Council staff arrived for work, parents, pupils, and others opposed to the closures assembled in the grounds. Armed with placards and flyers, vuvuzelas, pipes and drums, and megaphone, they made their feelings known loudly but peaceably. Their in-house face-painter kept the younger children occupied and entertained, and an anti-closure video prepared by Clachan Youth Club was screened.
Before moving on to the main debate of the day, the Council accepted the terms of a lengthy and detailed report responding to allegations made by the Scottish Rural Schools Network; SRSN had alleged that, at a seminar held on 17 February, council officers had deliberately misled elected members.
Ultimately, the Council rejected SRSN’s accusations in full, agreeing that there had been no deliberate attempt by officers to mislead councillors and that the allegations made by SRSN were unfounded.
As the day wore on, a majority of councillors voted to consult formally on eleven proposals to amalgamate primary schools. The following six proposals are those which are directly relevant to Mid-Argyll & Kintyre schools, and these proposals are now subject to a period of statutory consultation:
St Kieran’s Primary School to Castlehill Primary School
Ardchonnel Primary School to Dalmally / Kilmartin Primary Schools
Skipness Primary School to Tarbert Academy
Clachan Primary School to Tarbert Academy
Rhunahaorine Primary School to Glenbarr Primary School
Minard Primary School to Furnace Primary School
The Council agreed not to take forward to formal consultation the proposals to merge Ashfield Primary School with either Tayvallich Primary School or Lochgilphead Joint Campus, and rejected a proposal to amalgamate Minard Primary School with Lochgilphead Joint Campus, preferring the alternative option of amalgamating Minard Primary School with its Furnace equivalent.
Following recent pre-consultation meetings with communities, there is an opportunity now for parents, children, and other interested parties to make their feelings known as part of the formal consultation process before further decisions are made by the council in October.
In the interests of present and future generations of rural Argyll children, it is incumbent upon all those who value the quality of education provided by the area’s smaller and more isolated primary schools to speak up now, and to ensure that, at the very least, their arguments are heard publicly and recorded formally.