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THE WAY I SEE IT: Life-changing role of west Highland schools must be protected

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Seoras Burnett, chair of Ullapool High School parent council.
Seoras Burnett, chair of Ullapool High School parent council.

It’s sad news that Badcaul School is now ‘mothballed’ and may soon enter a consultation on closure, writes Seoras Burnett.

The school on the picturesque coast overlooking Little Loch Broom opened in 1901 and has been at the heart of the Dundonnell community for well over 100 years. Situated 6 miles south west of Ullapool as the crow flies but 30 miles by road Badcaul Primary, facing the challenge of a declining school role, was ‘mothballed’ in 2022.

We moved to the Highlands 17 years ago with our three children. We had been living in London previously and before we relocated, we made sure to visit the local primary school at Badcaul. We found a vibrant, dynamic school with 12 pupils and before we knew it our older two, aged 7 and 8, were running around the playground with the other kids, learning new things and appearing in some great school plays.


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People with children will naturally think twice about coming to an area where there’s almost 50 miles between the nearest primary schools.

A Wester Ross education and uprbinging stood these bright sparks in good stead.
A Wester Ross education and uprbinging stood these bright sparks in good stead.

Our older two children were subsequently joined by their younger brother and all three later became students at Ullapool High School.

The older two flourished academically at Ullapool High achieving top grades and both going on to attain first class honours degrees at Glasgow University. No credit due to us, all down to their hard work and the great teaching and inclusive environment at Badcaul and Ullapool High School.

They’re both now living in London but like many Highland emigrés they may well be drawn back at some stage, bringing the skills they’ve acquired along the way.

The youngest graduated from the Badcaul nursery sand pit, where he had a construction site with his two young friends. He’s taught himself to strip and reassemble a motorcycle engine, or any motorised piece of equipment for that matter.

He’s now hoping to start an engineering apprenticeship. Of his two friends, one has started his own wood turning business and the other has taught himself blacksmithing.

Resourceful and practically gifted kids mix with academic high achievers in a truly comprehensive melting pot in Highland schools.

Not only does the High School cater for the academic and the practical but all the young people benefit from amazing opportunities on their doorstep such as Duke of Edinburgh, overnight adventures on tall ships and John Muir Trust’s ‘Hill to Grill’.

Whether you’re a meat eater or not it’s good to understand where food comes from. Not many city kids have the opportunity to see how a deer on the hill ends up as healthy sustainable lean meat on the table.

The Northwest Highlands needs the young people to keep the place vibrant and full of the life and potential of youth. They are essential to the sustainable future of our communities and the schools are anchors within our communities.

A broad and equitable education needs to be guaranteed, one that brings and keeps families here and allows the young people to flourish.

Highland youngsters have proved what they are capable of decade after decade. Investing in education is investing in the future and will deliver amazing returns for the community and the visitors who flock to share this special place year after year.

That’s why we’ve been fighting, as the ‘Save Our Rural Schools’ campaign, to get recognition of the unique challenges we face in this part of the world whilst also highlighting the wonderful opportunities growing up here provides and why it’s something we need to make sure we look after.

Seoras Burnett is Ullapool High School parent council chairman

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