North Bute parents: we’re not waiting for the axe to fall

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ARGYLL and Bute Council’s new proposals for the future of its primary school estate will be published in a little over a week.

And yet, despite the threat of closure which still hangs over North Bute Primary in Port Bannatyne, the number of registrations this year from parents who want their child to start school in the village is at its highest for five years.

Eleven children have been registered to start at North Bute in August 2011 - a statistic which the school’s parent council believes is “a tremendous expression of faith in its future”.

Consultation on the council’s previous proposals was suspended on January 6, and the authority’s new education spokesperson, Cllr Ellen Morton, is due to unveil a revised programme next Thursday, March 3.

But Stuart Scott, from North Bute’s parent council, told us this week that the eight weeks in between have been anything but a period of limbo.

“In fact,” Mr Scott told us this week, “the whole school community has been using that time to build what we believe will be a very bright future for North Bute Primary.

“If we are not in the next set of proposals, that will be wonderful news. If we are, that won’t alter anything - we will fight it as far as it takes, and we are confident we have the facts and arguments that will be successful in the end.”

Not surprisingly, Mr Scott and his fellow parent council members were delighted, when registration for 2011-12 closed on January 21, to learn of the continued enthusiasm among the island’s parents for having their children educated at North Bute.

“Remember that the previous proposals were talking about closing North Bute and transferring pupils to Rothesay this October,” he continued, “so parents were registering their children for 2010-11 knowing that the council’s plan was to let them have a single term at North Bute.

“And putting your kids’ names down for a school is not something you mess around with: you don’t do it unless you want your children to go to that school.

“Seven of those 11 are placement requests, while one was a new family moving to the island. That reinforces the point we have been trying to make that the future of North Bute Primary is not a parochial Port Bannatyne issue; it’s an island issue.”

Mr Scott and his colleagues have spoken to the parent councils at both Rothesay and St Andrew’s, and he says both have supported the continuing provision of education at North Bute.

“We have never pretended that a North Bute Primary education is better than the education available anywhere else, but we recognise that it is different in a number of respects, and that is critical to the choice of primary provision on the island.”

After careful investigation of the figures involved, the parent council believes closing North Bute would result in a net cost to the council of £64,000 a year.

Talks have also been held with Argyll and Bute officials over the cost of repairs to the building, which the local authority estimated at £450,000 - although the parent council believes that the required improvements can be carried out without spending more than the £240,000 still allocated in the authority’s capital budget for building improvements, and plans are currently being drawn up on that basis.

“We all recognise the building needs improvement,” Mr Scott continued.

“But the council’s approach seems to be that it wants to get the building from a grade D quality to grade A in one go. We think we have a strong case for improving it step by step, and the surveyors’ early reaction is that that can be done.”

In the meantime, daily life at the school is carrying on as normal, and new initiatives are being investigated, such as using the community-owned Rhubodach forest for educational purposes and using garden space in Port Bannatyne to teach pupils how to grow their own plants.

“The whole school community would like to thank our three local councillors for their continuing support and interest in our efforts,” Mr Scott concluded.

“We are not waiting for the axe to fall. If we are on the list [of proposals for closure], it might well be quite a long haul, but everyone is up for the fight if that’s what we have to do.”