Joy as North Bute is saved from axe

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THE threat of closure has finally been lifted from above the heads of pupils, staff and parents at North Bute Primary in Port Bannatyne - sparking joyous reactions from all those who have been involved in the campaign to save the school.

Members of Argyll and Bute Council decided on Tuesday to stop their consultation on plans to merge 11 schools after education minister Michael Russell told the Scottish Parliament he believed legislation set up to protect rural schools was “defective”.

Stuart Scott from North Bute Primary’s parent council, which has led the fight against the closure proposals, told us: “It’s wonderful news. It’s a great turn of events, and everyone is absolutely elated.

“We have never been fighting to preserve the status quo - we have been fighting for a very much improved school building as a basis on which the school can have a bright and exciting future, and our next task is to continue what we hope will be a fruitful dialogue with the authorities on how that can be achieved.”

Councillors voted unanimously to stop the consultation process in its tracks, rather than to agree to Mr Russell’s call for a 12-month moratorium on rural school closures.

Council leader Dick Walsh said: “It is not appropriate for the council to continue working under legislation which the education secretary himself believes to be flawed and not fit for purpose.

“Our priority remains to provide all children in Argyll and Bute with a high standard of education. We welcome news that the education secretary will examine the links between rural schools and the support and development of vibrant rural communities.

“We need to make sure our children and teachers have access to education techniques which are recognised as best practice for today and tomorrow.”

Tuesday morning’s decision meant that night’s public consultation meeting in Port Bannatyne village hall on the future of North Bute was cancelled.

However, around 50 of the school’s supporters still went to the hall to share their relief - and a glass of bubbly - and were joined by all three island councillors and education director Cleland Sneddon.

Bute SNP councillor Robert Macintyre told The Buteman: “This decision will be a great relief for all the communities who have been affected by the trauma of the last six months.

“The council has finally recognised that the path they were on was the wrong one, and I must give credit to Dick Walsh for recognising this.

“His appeal for co-operation is one we should all listen to; the last six months have seen a bitterly divided council, which is no good for Argyll and Bute.”

Bute Community Council chair Donnie MacLeod, who is also a Port Bannatyne community councillor, said: “It’s got to be good news - the parent council has put up a great case and they’ve been completely vindicated. Congratulations to them all.

“Closing the school would have been a real blow to Port Bannatyne, and I’m just grateful that common sense has prevailed.”

The last word on the subject - for now at least! - came from North Bute pupil Molly Doyle, who travelled to Kilmory on Tuesday with her sister and her mum to support the school and who phoned us on the way home to say: “It was a very long wait, but it was a really good decision. I’m very, very happy.”