PARENTS of children at North Bute Primary in Port Bannatyne held talks on the school's future with Argyll and Bute Council's new education spokesperson this week – and seem to have come away encouraged by the experience.
Councillor Ellen Morton spoke to North Bute parents in between visits to all three island primaries this week, as she gathers information and opinion which will form a new set of proposals for the future of Argyll and Bute's primary schools.
Previous proposals to close 25 primaries, which had been heavily criticised in many quarters, were dumped by the council at a special meeting in Lochgilphead last Wednesday, at which Cllr Morton committed herself to drawing up a new set of plans by the beginning of March, for implementation in October this year.
Stuart Scott, one of five North Bute parents who met Cllr Morton, told us afterwards: "We all felt very reassured by Cllr Morton's approach to the whole thing – she seemed very open-minded.
"It was an opportunity for us to talk about the core of our case for the school, and how we see the school as having a very vibrant, thriving future.
"There is the very particular issue of the state of the school building at North Bute, and the issue of the cost of repairs is one of the things we will challenge.
"We do recognise the reality of the council's financial situation, and we have tried from the beginning to adopt a constructive, responsible and measured approach to this.
"But we are not resisting decline – we are trying to promote and encourage a thriving school in a revitalised community, and we got a very receptive hearing.
"There are never any guarantees with things like this, but it was a very constructive discussion and we hope both sides will have benefited from it."
Councillor Morton told The Buteman she had visited all three island primaries because she did not want people to think a visit from her meant a school was on any 'hit list'.
"The parent council at North Bute had asked to meet me," she said, "but I don't want other parents to think that she went to one school and not to any of the others.
"I got a very positive impression from my visits to all three schools. Clearly there are tensions and anxieties, most obviously at North Bute, but there was a recognition that the closure of one school, if it happens, will have an impact on the other two.
"As far as my meeting with parents from North Bute is concerned, I felt it was very positive, and that the parents had a very professional attitude. They understand the difficulties and the issues that need to be addressed.
Some observers, including retired North Bute Primary head teacher Brian Davidson, have questioned whether the council's intention to bring its revised proposals into effect in October is realistic.
Pressed on the issue, Cllr Morton told us: "I think the sooner the uncertainty is over, for children, families, teachers and communities, the better. The longer it drags on the worse it is for all concerned.
"The public may not be aware of it, but we've been at this for three and a half years. An awful lot of background work and informal consultation has already been done, and I think it's better for all concerned if it is completed as quickly as possible."