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Ullapool rural education campaigners demand end to 'buck passing'

By Iona M.J. MacDonald

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Kinlochbervie High School.
Kinlochbervie High School.

ROSS-SHIRE parents determined to improve the lot of children denied the educational opportunities open to peers in other schools have demanded an end to "buck passing" over the issue between different levels of government.

Last week, we reported on an open letter to key decision-makers in Highland Council and the Scottish Government lifting the lid on the plight of a number of small rural secondary schools unable to offer even a basic curriculum and calling for urgently remedial action.

With the number of signatories to an open letter from parent councils representing Ullapool, Gairloch, Farr and Kinlochbervie topping 750 within days, we sought direct answers from both Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth – who was still to respond to the open letter at time of writing – and Highland Council leader, Raymond Bremner.

And parents who want a direct meeting with both have kicked into touch the prospect of buck passing over the issue.

Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth: Action demanded.
Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth: Action demanded.


They have reiterated what they see as a crisis directly affecting the life chances of pupils at schools unable to provide a basic curriculum due to unavailability of core subjects, under-staffing and insufficient funding that they say is clearly taking its toll on the wellbeing of pupils, teachers and the livelihoods of these rural communities.

Signatories of the open letter have now been waiting ten days at time of writing for a response from Jenny Gilruth. Her communications team told us that she will "respond in due course".

We asked Ms Gilruth whether she is prepared to meet parents, whether she agrees that core subjects are an essential part of education and whether it is fair that some pupils are denied access to those subjects. She did not specifically address those questions but stated: ""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. This includes accessing e-Sgoil who provide a range of online provision for national courses.”

However, parents are demanding better.

Seoras Burnett: No buck passing.
Seoras Burnett: No buck passing.

Seoras Burnett, chair of Ullapool High School parent council, said: "We expect a response which addresses the specific issues we have raised and recognises that change is required. A face to face meeting with the Education Secretary and her team will be essential to ensuring what we are saying is being understood.We are disappointed at how long the response to signatories is taking, and we don't want to hear what the Scottish Government is currently doing reiterated."

Highland Council leader Raymond Bremner did provide a prompt response to all signatories. However the parents believe the Highland Council and Scottish Goverment are simply "passing the buck" between the two levels of government.

Denise MacDonald of Kinlochbervie High School parent council said: "We are asking for real, tangible, action as a result of this campaign. For too long officials have passed the buck between different levels of government. We would like the opportunity to sit around a table with Cabinet Education Secretary Gilruth and Councillor Bremner to discuss these issues so that they recognise that this is bigger than just a tweak here, or a tweak there. "

Maree Todd MSP: 'Challenges exist'.
Maree Todd MSP: 'Challenges exist'.

MSP for Caithness Sutherland and Ross, Maree Todd, who is from Ullapool, said: “Clearly challenges exist, and although the Highland Council is responsible for education delivery, I will work with anyone to resolve the issues affecting schools in my constituency.

“The Scottish Government is also fully engaged, with the Cabinet Secretary for Education emphasising in a letter to me her eagerness to identify solutions to the challenges in rural schools. Ms Gilruth also confirmed that she asked the Strategic Board for Teacher Education to look at these issues across Scotland, including geographical and subject-specific issues.”

Summing up the current position of the parents, co-chair of Gairloch High School parent council Fiona Mackenzie said: "After years of writing letters, petitioning, and considerately requesting that these critical issues be addressed, we are left with no choice but to start shouting very loudly. All we want is equity for school pupils across Scotland.”

A link to the open letter can be found at saveourruralschools.com/

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