THE bitter row over Argyll and Bute Council’s hugely controversial school closure programme has taken a new twist after campaigners published figures appearing to show that Rothesay Primary will be the worst-staffed school of its size if the ‘merger’ with North Bute goes ahead.
Analysis by the Scottish Rural Schools Network suggests that a reduction in teacher numbers at Rothesay by the full-time equivalent (FTE) of 2.44 will leave the school with fewer teaching staff than any other in Scotland with a similar roll.
The council’s proposal would leave the newly-amalgamated Rothesay Primary with 287 pupils and a teaching staff complement of 13.94 FTE to cover 12 classes - but SRSN chairman Sandy Longmuir says that when the requirement to give teachers non-teaching time, for marking, preparation and so on, is taken into account, along with the management time of a head teacher, deputy head and principal teachers, the school should be entitled to an FTE of 15.
According to statistics obtained by Mr Longmuir under freedom of information laws, none of the 41 schools in Scotland with a pupil roll of between 280 and 290 has a FTE complement of fewer than 14.6.
The first proposal to close North Bute and move its pupils to Rothesay, published last November, calculated that £89,987 would be saved in staff costs.
But in the proposal which is now out to formal consultation, that figure has increased to £137,013.
The reduction in the ‘small schools’ grant which would result from closing North Bute has also increased, from a loss £89,372 last November to £150,660 in the formal consultation.
North Bute parent Murray Doyle told us he suspected the 2.44 FTE reduction in staff had been calculated to offset the greater cut in grant funding.
“Everyone and their granny knows that should this amalgamation go ahead the council will lose, annually, a small fortune in the government grants that North Bute qualifies for,” Mr Doyle said.
“However it appears very much like the council is trying to hide this significant loss by proposing unnecessary reductions in staff at the amalgamated Rothesay Primary.
“This is a new turn of events, as of April last; if I was a parent of a pupil at Rothesay Primary I would be objecting to this right now. Ironically these proposed staff cuts should vanish if North Bute is left alone.”
Bute councillor Isobel Strong, who was the authority’s education spokesperson until the SNP walked out of the ruling coalition in November and who is herself a former teacher, told us she was “staggered” by the information contained in the SRSN analysis.
“Prior to this,” she said, “councillors had been told that Rothesay Primary had the capacity to absorb the pupils from North Bute without adversely affecting the education of pupils already in Rothesay Primary.
“The staffing complement which appears to be planned for next session after Christmas will not meet the national staffing standards which all local authorities are obliged to follow.
“This looks like another example of the council not recognising the damage to children’s education on Bute which will result if the closure proposals are pursued.
“In addition they will go against the Single Outcome Agreement which the council signed up to with the Scottish Government.”
A spokesperson for Argyll and Bute Council said: “The information supplied contains a lot of figures relating to schools outwith Argyll and Bute. We need a few days to check and confirm these figures before we can provide a comprehensive response.”