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Has SNP turned its back on the North? Critics of school funding certainly think so

By Scott Maclennan

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A new St Clements is now highly unlikely to go ahead.
A new St Clements is now highly unlikely to go ahead.

The Scottish Government and Highland Council have abandoned schools projects across the north after the region did not receive a penny in long hoped for Learning Estate Investment Programme (LEIP) funding. That is the view of councillor Helen Crawford and St Clement’s parent council chairwoman Avril Roberston.

The council was depending on LEIP funding to deliver new schools for St Clement’s, Park, Beauly and Dunvegan Primary but said that following a “ministerial review” the three bids it submitted were not selected despite them meeting the selection criteria.

The decision and the reasons given sparked questions. LEIP funding is designed to improve poor school buildings yet Chryston High School built a decade ago and termed in “good” condition by the government, got millions.

So why Chryston? So the government can say it has invested in each local authority in the country – apparently whether they need it or not.

Conditions are getting worse

A government spokesperson reiterated that both Tain and Nairn academies got huge sums from leap, adding: “This third phase supports a priority project in those local authorities who have not thus far benefitted from LEIP and, therefore, treats all councils fairly and equitably.

“The proportion of schools in ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory’ condition in Scotland has increased from 61 per cent in April 2007 to 90.7 per cent in April 2023, and LEIP investment will build on this progress.”

But that is not true in the Highlands where conditions are getting worse: 13 high schools were rated poor – equal to 44 per cent – and 60 primaries are in a poor condition – 35 per cent – and on top of that is ASN school St Clement’s.

The total loss of investment has thrown recent decisions taken by the SNP-led local authority into a harsh new light – like the incredibly slow pace of work to acquire the new site for St Clemen’ts – the transaction is expected sometime before March 2024.

Strategic error

And the move by the council to cut the budgets of 10 schools, including those bidding for LEIP funding, is now seen as a terrible strategic error – delivering a clear message about the local authority’s ambitions.

Without a direct budget commitment from bosses – beyond stating they remain “committed” to the schools – the government may well have considered this a factor in its final decision.

Councillor Helen Crawford said: “It feels as though both our own council and the Scottish Government have turned their backs on our Highland communities. Education has always mattered to Highlanders.

“When Highland Council ‘deprioritised’ the schools I think it was the wrong thing to do at the wrong time, and instead they should have upped the commitment as a strong and steadfast message to the Scottish Government.

“In fact, we were told there was no plan B because it would send the wrong signal – then they went and effectively defunded the schools.”

Our children have been let down

Avril Robertson said: “So what is next for St. Clement’s School? What is Highland Council going to do now? The bid made by the council for LEIP 3 funding was rejected although allegedly it met the criteria.

“What is proposed for a desperately needed replacement St. Clement’s Additional Support Needs School? How urgent does their need have to be? St Clement’s accommodates pupils from age 3-18 and the catchment area covers a large geographical part of the Highlands.

“The kids at St Clement’s clearly haven’t been included in any of these decisions and need a new school to enable them to develop and reach their full potential in society.

“They have all made their thoughts known via various platforms and nobody is listening.”

A little along the road, Beauly Primary parent, Catherin Rait said: “Highland Council can now use the Scottish Government as the reason the schools will not be built but the responsibility still lies with the council and we will continue to fight for a better school for our children and in the interim better conditions. We look forward to seeing what their plan is.

“As for the overall improvement with the state of schools, yes the proportion of schools in the good category may well be 90.7 per cent but, 37 per cent of Highland schools are rated C poor conditions, which is 74 schools and 10,325 pupils – that is from the chair of property and housing on June 29.”

“The Scottish Government cannot have it both ways, they want the credit for the improvement from 61 per cent to 90.7 per cent but they say the council has the responsibility for the improvement of schools or in our case the lack of.

“They can blame each other and political parties and war and covid but the fact is our children have been let down by both the Highland Council and the Scottish Government.”

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