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Ross-shire MP backs 'abandoned' constituents as Save Our Rural Schools campaign is stepped up

By Iona M.J. MacDonald

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MP Jamie Stone backs the Save Our Rural Schools campaign.
MP Jamie Stone backs the Save Our Rural Schools campaign.

Following an open letter sent by parents from Ullapool, Gairloch, Kinlochbervie, and Farr High Schools requesting a face-to-face meeting with Education Secretary, Jenny Gilruth, local MP Jamie Stone has put on the record his support for the campaign and the need for talks.

The open letter now has almost 900 signatories.

The open letter bluntly tells of how the small rural schools are “failing to provide a basic curriculum” due to unavailability of core subjects, under-staffing, and insufficient funding that is “taking its toll” on the future and wellbeing of pupils, teachers and the livelihoods of these rural communities.


Since then, the Education Secretary has given a comment to the media saying a meeting will take place in March. However, the parent council say that no meeting has as yet been organised. It has come to light that a meeting that had been arranged prior to the open letter will be taking place with the Highland Parent Council Forum. However, the North and West Coast schools want a meeting of their own.

How we reported the launch of the Save Our Rural Schools campaign in the Ross-shire Journal (February 9, 2024).
How we reported the launch of the Save Our Rural Schools campaign in the Ross-shire Journal (February 9, 2024).

Commenting, Mr Stone said: "It is absolutely reasonable for the north and west coast schools to have a meeting of their own with the Education Secretary on this issue, and I fully back them in this endeavour. Though the meeting that is scheduled to go ahead may be useful, it will not provide these parents with a decent opportunity to raise their specific calls to improve rural schools.

"My constituents feel that they have been abandoned by government and local authorities. If we are to go by the words of recent SNP defectee, Councillor Karl Rosie, who believes that SNP policies "often seem disproportionately focused on the Central Belt, neglecting the needs and priorities of regions like ours in the Highlands", then I fear that these parents are absolutely justified to feel this way.

"It is typical of the SNP Government to say one thing to the papers and another to real people on the ground or, as in this case, nothing at all. The Save Our Rural Schools campaign group deserve to be heard."

Ms Gilruth earlier stated: "She said: “It is important that we recognise the specific context of our rural schools, which is why local councils currently have the autonomy to provide incentives to attract teachers to their area. It is right that any decision to do so is taken at a local level given that local authorities are responsible for the recruitment and deployment of their staff. To support them, we are providing local authorities with £145.5 million in this year's budget to protect teacher numbers.

"Councils are able to extend subject choice through school-college partnerships, digital platforms and collaborative approaches to timetabling. This includes accessing e-Sgoil who provide a range of online provision for national courses.”

However, the Virtual Academy learning provision, provided by University of the Highlands and Islands, also has flaws according to the open letter. The parent councils say Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications facilitated there have on occasion been discontinued halfway through the course. They have cited "unreliable administrative processes and inconsistent service provision" with "no co-ordination between Highland Council and distance learning providers".

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