Political divorce in Angus and revelations in East Dunbartonshire signal arrival of 2013 School Wars

We are hearing stories of moves afoot to close schools in Argyll and Bute – and we have already published on Education Director, Cleland Sneddon’s, core strategy for defence in 2013.

He and his department have been working to try to produce evidence to show that the closure of a rural school has no great impact on its community.

This is an arena we will obviously be returning to but for the moment the action elsewhere signals that the forces on both sides are gathering for conflict.

The new SNP administration of Angus Council lost its 15-14 majority and is now a minority administration because of the SNP group’s internal bad faith.

We have published the resignation statement by Councillor Ewan Smith of Angus, where assurances given within the SNP group on what they would and would not do in revisiting the primary school estate were binned in an astonishing volte face, of which more soon.

The effect of this stance is virtually to put the clock back. The lack of fidelity with the electorate which put this party group into power – just – was a long way beyond what Ewan Smith could stomach. He resigned the party whip, is now an independent councillor and intends to stay that way.

Mr Smith fought a doughty – and eventually successful – campaign to prevent the quite unhinged proposal to merge Timmergreens and Muirfield primary schools in a new build on the very edge of the most dangerous road in Arbroath.

This made him well known in Argyll as a fellow spirit during the Argyll Rural Schools Network’s [ARSN] vigorous – and successful – campaigning in the war of the 26 schools set to close in 2010/11, without a competent closure proposal amongst them, even for a school that was already not in use.

Also known in Argyll and to ARSN is Niall Campbell from Baldernock School in East Dunbartonshire, who, having saved his school in a tough confrontation the last time, is back in the jousting lists with East Dunbartonshire Council [EDC] throwing Baldernock open to potential closure yet again.

This council’s proposals for the revision of its primary school estate are full of procedural flaws and are redolent of Argyll and Bute Council’s performance last time around – with inaccurate and doctored figures and concealed information deployed in the appearance of support for the case presented to councillors.

We will be publishing a report on this matter in the early afternoon today, 3rd March.

Argyll’s wake up call

Neither we nor any other medium appear to have heard anything from ARSN for quite a while, but this is a time to wake up, gear up and gird up. They will be hearing what we’re hearing; and proactivity is more effective than defence after the event.

There will be schools that cannot be saved because, in tight times, some commonsense arguments are irrefutable – but there should be few in that category.

With the  public impact of its eternal internal upheavals, the council would be advised to keep its focus strictly on no more that the utterly defensible closures.

The Scottish Government theoretically holds to the social and economic importance of rural primary schools Рand that position  Рagain theoretically Рoffers shelter to local schools with small rolls. Such schools, with a roll of 69 or fewer, are additionally and generously  subsidised by central government Рthrough the GAE funding mechanism.

We expect the residual cost per pupil to the council in the small schools, relative to the residual cost per pupil in bigger primary schools, to be an issue in the coming conflict.

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21 Responses to Political divorce in Angus and revelations in East Dunbartonshire signal arrival of 2013 School Wars

  1. With COSLA still flexing its muscles and acting like a wounded animal , for no apparent reason rather than hating parents having a say in school closures ; it looks like payback time for Baldernock.
    With Tories silent on West of Scotland MSP arguing for Michael Russell MSP to keep an on EDC , Tory Councillor Billy Hendry as a solicitor in the real world ; has failed to act on two Rural schools in his Ward. Two Laws broken & he remains silent.
    MP Jo Swinson must be aghast at her Lib Dem Councillor Eric Gotts hiding as Convemor of Education and refusing to have surgeries. He is blaming parents coming from outside his area to his surgeries , even though it is his Duty as a Councillor to meet anyone from East Dunbartonshire & any parent which is a placement request to his Ward.
    Still waiting on MSP Fiona McLeod to raise a question in Scot Parliament to give additional protection to Baldernock & further Rural schools.

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  2. Newsie, “There will be schools that cannot be saved because, in tight times, some common sense arguments are irrefutable”

    Care to name them?

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    • One springs immediately to mind, Simon – and sadly.
      If the school roll remains much as it was for Skipness – and its parent council fought passionately and in heartbreaking circumstances to save it – it is hard to see how maintaining it would be defensible.
      Beyond that, we are not au fait as of this moment with the school rolls and valid school roll projections for the school estate.
      I guess we will all shortly become familiar with the details of the situation.
      But as with the Struan Lodge decision in the elderly care sphere, there are bound to be hard but unavoidable decisions in primary education too.
      It is worth noting however, that what happens will depend, and perhaps absolutely, depend upon the calibre of the factual accuracy, the argument and the legal compliance of the closure proposals.
      If, as was the case on two successive occasions last time around, council officers cannot put together sound proposals, schools that might close will again be reprieved – because in law no other outcome is defensible.
      So school campaigners in Argyll and Bute will be hoping that neither Head of Schools, Carol Walker [or whatever is the title of the day] nor Executive Director and Director of Education, Cleland Sneddon, prove capable of having upped their game since 2010/11.
      Then, not one of the active schools they proposed for closure actually closed – in a series of two sets of mightily expensive and failed closure proposals [initially involving 26 schools, 24 of them active, 2 already inactive].
      We will see.

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  3. I rather think we need to follow Lesley Riddoch’s suggestions and devolve the education to hubs made up of Senior schools and their feeder primaries and nurseries. Give them a budget per child and let them get on with it. Have each head teacher, plus one rep from each school parent council then one further rep for every hundred children over the first hundred in each school as the board of management.

    Get rid of the bureaucracy at the centre apart from those conveying the Scottish Government’s requirements who can also act as the liaison between the hubs and the council.

    Some may see that’s a postcode lottery. I call it local responsible democracy in action.

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    • Graeme obviously wants the Scottish Government to control schools. I wonder why?

      As alomost 90% of schools in Argyll & Bute do not have 100 pupils, it looks like they would have little say.

      Democracy out the window.

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    • Past tense, Simon – ‘were already inactive’ – as we’re talking history here.
      Memory says it was one near Loch Etive [think it began with an 'Ach...'] and one in or near Campbeltown that was being used by then for community purposes including the council’s museums group. Was this one St Patricks?

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    • St Kerian’s sounds good. But was it Ardchonnel? Once you got the ‘Ardch…’ bit, Ardchonnel emerged from the mist.
      Ardchattan was on the list but was an active school – memory says it had a small roll because it had been refused nursery facilities so, although its catchment of tinies was good, most local parents were sending them to LochNell School in North Connel.

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  4. For these small under-occupied and very expensive schools, maybe the SNP Council should just adopt the tactic they have imposed on Struan Lodge – no new admissions.

    Simples.

    That way the running costs per head go rocketing up and makes the case for closure even more appealing.

    Or is just old people the SNP treat this way?

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    • No placement requests….would give a clearer picture of local school roles particularly as in some situations the parent/s, not the pupil/s pass, more than one other primary school!

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  5. Oh ARSN are still here :)

    Let’s not forgot the recommendations from the Commission have not yet been published and therefore, it would be completely pointless to proceed with any closure proposals until then.

    However, at no point have any of us been under the delusion that Mr Sneddon will give up, especially after getting his ticket punched twice last time around, very publically and very humiliatingly.

    He is not the only one who has been busy during the amnesty ;)

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    • No one does as neat a phrase as Crazy: ‘getting his ticket punched twice’- regardless of who it refers to, is an instant gurgle.

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  6. Thanks for the wake up call, but not really necessary. My antennae have been twitching ever since I realised that the newly elected council didn’t have the cajones to clear out the toxic trio – Walker, Sneddon, Bin Loudon. Even when Sneddon gratuitously poked himself in the eye by crassly mismanaging the Martha’s meals affair, they still didn’t sack him. After his two deplorably inept attempts at school closures, doesn’t this qualify as a hat trick?

    So when I heard that the council weren’tgoing to re

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  7. Sorry, I think I must have pushed the wrong button on my new computer, and cut myself off in mid stream. To continue – When I heard that the council weren’t going to replace the retired head teacher of Minard school, and had decided to effectively downgrade the school by announcing that the head teacher of Furnace school would take over the headship of Minard school, part time, my instant reaction was “the b*****s are at it again”.

    Since then, however, the school roll at Minard has, ironically, shot up from 7 to 10 – a 45 percent increase! A perfect illustration of the point I repeatedly made during the school closure campaign, ie, the school rolls of rural villages will vary so widely and so suddenly that even those schools without any pupils at all shouldn’t be irrevocably closed and sold off. Keeping them “mothballed” ready for reopening costs nothing, and allows them to be reopened in readiness for when the demographic tides change, as they inevitably will.

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  8. S. White you make a good point about school rolls and demographics. The roll projections for Baldernock Primary School, East Dunbartonshire, have change three times in the recent two primary state reviews – twice in the last few months. I personally know of parents who worried about the threat of closure to the school send their children else where. Managed self fufilling decline?

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  9. dp.
    Just board it up and hope that the local vandals do not wreck the place.
    If everybody were law abiding citizens then mothballing a school would cost nothing.

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  10. re mothballing – simple, roughly the same as if you were leaving your home unoccupied for a protracted period of time.

    You drain the water system and shut off the water supply, thereby avoiding burst pipes during severe winter weather. Then switch off the electricity. In the case of Ardchonnel school neither of these precautions were carried out when it went dormant, with predictable results.

    Make sure all windows are closed and locked, and ventilators are open and unobstructed and that grills are fitted to prevent access by birds or other wildlife. Check the surroundings for the possibility of future damage from nearby trees and remove them if necessary. And don’t forget to lock the door behind you when you leave!

    Inform the police, the local community council, the fire brigade, etc, of the building’s status.

    Since the rural schools in Argyll were built to very high standard, indeed a standard seemingly impossible to achieve nowadays, it is unlikely that any serious deterioration will occur. An annual inspection by a building surveyor for storm damage, blocked land drains etc should suffice.

    Our rural schools are prominently situated in small villages so the danger of vandalism is minimal, easily detected if it does occur, and quickly dealt with.

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