Yesterday, Tuesday 4th June, three members of North Bute School’s Parent Council, led by Chair, Liz Ferguson, made a presentation to Bute & Cowal Local Area Planning Committee.
The objective of the presentation was to ask Argyll & Bute Council to make a policy change, adopting recommendations from the recently published report of the Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education.
Of specific interest was the recommendation that: ‘local authorities should encourage and accept help with school fabric and maintenance from parents and communities where appropriate’.
The Parent Council team set out the case for North Bute Primary School being the pilot for the implementation of this recommendation, toward developing a working model for for its application across Argyll & Bute.
During the presentation the team highlighted the fact that, had the school closure programme of 2010-11 succeeded, the council would have lost around £213,000 from GAE and would have incurred additional annual travel costs, estimated in 2010 at £38,000. [Ed: GAE is Grant Aided Expenditure, the calculation mechanism employed by the Scottish Government to arrive at the total of revenue funding to be awarded to a local authority in the coming year.]
The North Bute presentation pointed out that the retention of the GAE amount attracted by North Bute School from 2010 to today is more than the cost of refurbishing the shool. While pointing this out, they formally recognised that council finances are, however, managed in a more complex fashion.
This Parent Council understands the constraints placed on capital projects and, for that reason, proposed a phased approach to the refurbishment. This would also mean that a more flexible approach to procurement could be taken ensuring local companies are able to bid for the business.
It argues that, by working with the community, additional funding streams could be looked at to match the budget allocated by the council.
The policy change they advocate, in line with the Commission’s recommendations, would also mean that pledges of work by skilled local craftsmen and parents could be realised, presenting a saving for tax payers.
The case made in the presentation is that investing in North Bute Primary is not just a matter of bricks and mortar; and that the importance of the school to the local community cannot be underestimated.
The Parent Council’s events programme, for instance, is open to all and well attended by family, friends and the wider community.
Another example is the tea room run by the children – which is not only embeds learning enterprise and understanding money, it offers the area’s older residents an opportunity to interact with the children and create inter-generational learning opportunities that cannot be available in the classroom.
The North Bute team are used as exemplars of co-operative learning, showing that the Curriculum for Excellence is not restricted to the boundaries of the school wall but is delivered through strong community links. The Parent Council believe that the retention of rural education delivered at North Bute ensures good choices for parents in the Isle of Bute – which also has a faith school and a joint campus.
The availability in the mix of the North Bute model also supports a cluster of different approaches that assist the professional development of teachers.
The team’s case to the committee is that refurbishing North Bute Primary School should be seen in the context of long term investment in a ‘resilient and supportive community’ with aspiration to grow which in turn supports our children to develop as ‘confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens’.
The capital budget allocated to North Bute is around £200,000. It is important to the Parent Council that this money is not used reactively but as part of a planned and phased programme of works that secure the long term future of rural education on Bute.
The notably resourceful North Bute Parent Council hopes that the committee will take forward their proposal; and that Argyll & Bute Council will adopt a new policy, working with them, creating a harmonious partnership focused on the council’s desire for ‘a coherent rural regeneration strategy to support economic outcomes for rural areas’.