TUESDAY, June 14 looks set to be a significant day in the continuing battle to save North Bute Primary School from the axe.
Several weeks ago that was the date chosen for a public meeting in Port Bannatyne village hall to discuss the proposal to close North Bute and send its pupils to Rothesay Joint Campus.
That meeting will still go ahead at 7pm. But earlier in the day, members of Argyll and Bute Council will meet at Kilmory to discuss last week’s appeal by education secretary Michael Russell to all Scottish local authorities with rural schools, asking for a 12-month moratorium on any closure propoals.
Mr Russell’s request – made public as last week’s issue of The Buteman was about to go to press – met with a decidedly cool response from the leader of Argyll and Bute Council, Dick Walsh, who said the Scottish Government would have to come up with extra cash if schools were to be protected from the financial squeeze facing local councils.
Argyll and Bute’s education spokesperson, Councillor Ellen Morton, said the consultation process would continue in the meantime and that “positive discussions” were being held with other councils and with Mr Russell.
The announcement of a special council meeting to consider Mr Russell’s request – and his plan to form a commission which will look into the delivery of rural education – prompted Bute SNP councillor Isobel Strong, the authority’s former education spokesperson, to again demand that the authority take the opportunity to scrap its hugely controversial school closure plans.
Cllr Strong said: “ Now that a special council meeting has been called for June 14, I hope that the administration will see sense and agree to the moratorium on school closures proposed by the cabinet secretary.
“He has also proposed a commission to look at the issues involved in delivering education in rural areas. If the ‘ConDemAll’ administration does not change its stance, it will further damage the council’s reputation, which is already shaky for the way it has dealt with this long running saga.”
Stuart Scott, from North Bute Primary’s parent council, told The Buteman: “We were absolutely delighted by Mr Russell’s statement, and we totally agreed with his view that the legislation on rural schools has not been used in the way it was intended.
“The law as it stands is designed to protect rural schools against anything other than an absolutely compelling case for closure. It doesn’t allow closures a matter of policy, and clearly the council’s initial decision was a policy decision.”
Looking ahead to the Port Bannatyne meeting on Tuesday evening, Mr Scott said: “Quite how things will pan out now that the council has announced it will meet earlier in the day, we just don’t know – all we can do is plan for the public meeting, and hope that it may be rendered academic by what the council decides to do.
“We’re still not entirely certain about the format of the evening, but we will challenge the council on a number of aspects, as we have all along.
“The pre-consultation meeting in March was entirely unsatisfactory, but the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting will be much more open. Anything and everything from the proposal document should be open to scrutiny.”
Meanwhile, members of the parent council at North Bute joined pupils and members of the community last weekend in working hard to improve the condition of the school buildings - giving the 30-year-old ‘temporary’ hut in the playground a facelift, painting the dining room and hall, external doors, windows, railings and gates, cleaning out store rooms and cleaning the playground.
Their work party, they hope, will be enough to improve the state of the school’s buildings from a level C condition (poor) to level B (satisfactory).
The parent council has obtained a report under freedom of information rules showing that a May 2010 audit gave the school an overall rating of 57.3 - with an improvement of only 2.7 required to bring the buildings into a satisfactory state.
Parent council member Reeni Kennedy-Boyle said: “This work was undertaken for two reasons - pride in our school and as a demonstration to Argyll and Bute Council of what can be achieved if they work with communities rather than against them.”