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Covid-19 'no excuse' for delay on Dingwall special school project says councillor as parents' preferences revealed; Highland Council chief executive admits local authority thanks campaigners for perseverance


By Scott Maclennan

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Highland Council chief executive Donna Manson. Picture: Gary Anthony
Highland Council chief executive Donna Manson. Picture: Gary Anthony

Highland Council has admitted that it “did not get it right” over St Clement's as tentative first steps are made to establish a site for a new school.

Chief executive Donna Manson was speaking after a paper was delivered to the education committee updating members on progress toward a new school, with two potential sites in Dingwall being investigated for viability.

Mrs Manson said: “I think it is important to recognise that for a long time we didn’t get this one right and I think it is important to say that to the parents, the young people and the staff.

“We need to thank them for their continued perseverance, tolerance and understanding.”

The Victorian-era St Clement's School building is widely regarded as outdated and no longer fit for purpose for children with additional support needs.
The Victorian-era St Clement's School building is widely regarded as outdated and no longer fit for purpose for children with additional support needs.

That came after Councillor Graham Mackenzie said the local authority had not been “as forthright and transparent” with parents while urging the council not to lose the sense of urgency or momentum, saying: “We cannot afford to let them down again.

“I have an email which represents the broad view of the parents. There has been a survey which was carried out recently and resulted in an overwhelming majority for a standalone school and for the location to be in Dingwall.

“It is vital our children and their interests are served at every level of the Highland Council process, while we are pleased with recent progress it is troubling that after decades of campaigns an entire school role of the most disabled children have not place in the Highland Council budget.

Councillor Graham Mackenzie: 'We cannot afford to let them down again'. Picture: James MacKenzie
Councillor Graham Mackenzie: 'We cannot afford to let them down again'. Picture: James MacKenzie

“It is further concerning that Covid hasn’t prevented progress on at least two mainstream schools, schools which already have dining facilities and outdoor facilities but Covid was referenced as a reason to delay St Clement's which has none of these basic facilities.”

Cllr Margaret Paterson said: “It is making me so happy to see St Clement's on the education committee agenda. Ferry Road will have challenges but nothing worthwhile comes easy and we can meet the challenges.

“And I look forward with hope that the parents, the teachers and the youngsters, who are so excited about this, can meet the challenges. I just hope we manage to get a site soon, by soon I mean this year.”

Inverness South Councillor Andrew Jarvie underlined that council has a legal duty to provide an appropriate school, saying: “Given the significance of this, it is hard for this not to be an emotive issue for everyone on this committee or this council.

“Many of the complaints that I have seen is that this is a school for disabled children who this is not accessible for.

“That is simply not good enough and this council has duties and responsibilities in law on multiple pieces of legislation to provide a suitable education. In terms of finances, this cannot be held up as an excuse any further because this council has a duty to provide this.”

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