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Ullapool and Gairloch high schools cannot deliver 'even a basic curriculum'


By Iona M.J. MacDonald

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Gairloch High School.
Gairloch High School.

A NUMBER of Ross-shire secondary schools are "on their knees" despite the heroic efforts of staff with chronic underfunding limiting the career choices of pupils and threatening to exacerbate rural depopulation.

A sobering assessment of the challenges faced comes in a far-reaching open letter sent to politicians and decision-makers which is already gaining significant momentum.

The voices of anxious parents, overstressed staff and "let down" pupils resonate in an open letter which offers a searing indictment of shortfalls affecting schools including Gairloch High and Ullapool High.

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The open letter demands action to be taken for "school communities on their knees" due to "insufficient funding to deliver even a basic curriculum"' with increasing concern for the wellbeing of teachers and support staff at these schools.

Echoing wider concerns for fragile communities, one parent council asks: "Who will move here if we can't even offer the basics?"

The open letter states some schools cannot currently provide multiple core subjects including computing, home economics, politics and modern studies.

Gairloch High School parent council co-chair Onie Tibbit said: "The creativity and commitment of the teachers here is incredible, but small schools need investment and support if they are to provide a broad, consistent curriculum for every pupil.”

Onie Tibbit, co-chair of Gairloch High School parent council.
Onie Tibbit, co-chair of Gairloch High School parent council.

The demand for action from four parent councils – which include Kinlochbervie and Farr in Sutherland – comes in an open letter to Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth and Highland Council leader Raymond Bremner under the banner Save Our Rural Schools

Politicians this week promised that "issues will be tackled" following the campaign launch.

While Highland Council leader Raymond Bremner commended the online Virtual Academy learning provision, provided by University of the Highlands and Islands, the parent councils say Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications facilitated there have on occasion been discontinued halfway through the course. They cite "unreliable administrative processes and inconsistent service provision" with "no co-ordination between Highland Council and distance learning providers.

Parents fear these issues put the west coast pupils at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing college, university and apprenticeships.

Councillor Raymond Bremner: Arrangements in place.
Councillor Raymond Bremner: Arrangements in place.

Councillor Bremner said: "The Highland Council has a large school estate with a pupil population of just over 30,000.

"The Highland Council has a staffing formula to ensure that secondary schools have the staff required to provide a curriculum to meet the requirements of the curriculum for excellence.

"The Primary staffing formula increases based on school roll. There are several bespoke management arrangements in place, which have been agreed with members and local communities to meet their needs. In addition, each school has an allocation of Pupil Equity Funding which they can also use to engage additional staffing.

"Staff planning is undertaken for each individual school to ensure appropriate staffing is in place for the new school session every August. The council provides a generous relocation and removal package which is available to teachers moving to the Highland area for a permanent post.

"We provide some online provision for interrupted learners and senior phase pupils. To build on the success of this, we are in discussions to potentially provide a more progressive senior phase offering."

Maree Todd MSP: Recognises challenges.
Maree Todd MSP: Recognises challenges.

MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, Maree Todd, who is from Ullapool, said: "I recognise the challenges outlined, and I am engaging with the Scottish Government and the Highland Council about these issues.

“Our declining population presents many challenges, including around the recruitment and retention of teachers. Despite offering generous relocation packages to encourage applications, filling teaching vacancies remains difficult.

“High quality education that supports the needs of all pupils contributes to positive outcomes for our young people, and is a vital factor in addressing depopulation. The Cabinet Secretary for Education, Jenny Gilruith, has assured me that through the Scottish Government’s Addressing Depopulation Plan, these issues will be tackled.

“I will be holding surgeries in Ullapool and Kinlochbervie next week and welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues, and identify how we can best support schools and pupils.”

When raising these issues with Highland Council and the Scottish Government previously, however, the parents say that they 'have failed to produce an acceptable response'.


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