Argyll and Bute Council will consider holding extra consultation meetings with communities which could eventually be affected by any future decisions to amalgamate primary schools, at a meeting to be held on 3 March. .
The additional consultation will give community representatives the opportunity to have their opinions included in community impact assessments, which will give the council better understanding of how changes to schools could be managed.
The council will be asked to agree a recommendation to hold informal pre consultation meetings with representatives from twelve communities that may be affected by the school estate review. This represents a new approach from the council, giving greater transparency, greater detail and greater involvement from communities.
If agreed the informal consultation will take place during the weeks commencing March 14 and 21, in the form of facilitated workshops, with the results helping to shape proposals which will be presented to council at the beginning of April.
Once the informal discussions are completed community impact assessments will be presented to the groups who contributed to council. These assessments will inform decisions taken over which proposals will go forward for formal consultation.
On 3 March the council will also be asked to agree a recommendation to review the school estate on an ongoing basis, reducing the future scale of any changes which would be considered at any one time.
Councillor Morton believes the new approach is a positive step. She explains:
“Children in Argyll and Bute receive a good standard of education and we are determined that will continue. However, education accounts for almost one third of the council’s overall budget so it’s important we make sure the money we have available is spent in the most effective way possible.
“Any proposal to reduce the number of primary schools is going to be controversial. When I was appointed Spokesperson for Education I wanted to be absolutely confident that our proposals would continue to provide excellent education for children in Argyll and Bute. I’ve spent a lot of time since January visiting schools, listening to parents and understanding their concerns.
“We have too many schools and too many of them are under-occupied. We have an inequitable situation where the cost of education per pupil ranges from around £3,000 per year in some schools up to £30,000 in others. This situation is not sustainable. I still think we need to hear more from our communities before we make further decisions which is why I’m suggesting we have some informal consultation meetings before developing our plans for the school estate any further.
“There has been a lot of valuable work carried out to date and this will all contribute to the eventual proposals, which I will bring to council in April.”
Consultation on proposals to amalgamate 25 schools into 19, reducing the total number of primary schools from 80 to 55 was suspended on 5 January on the recommendation of Councillor Morton, the council’s recently appointed spokesperson for education. Councillor Morton wanted extra time to fully consider the proposals in light of her new appointment, the council’s reduced budget settlement from the Scottish Government and the news that the settlement only represented a one-year budget agreement. Councillors agreed to pause the consultation to allow Councillor Morton time to examine the proposals in greater detail.
Since then Councillor Morton has visited more than 60 primary schools, including all of those included in the original consultation exercise and has worked with council officers to review the way the process will continue.
And the council has held constructive and positive discussions with the Scottish Rural Schools Network and The Argyll Rural Schools Network (ARSN) The discussions with ARSN have helped develop an outline joint protocol for the pre-consultation activity, which councillors will now consider.
Argyll and Bute Council recently confirmed its budget proposals for the next three years, which sees the council saving £12 million in 2011-12, with predictions for an estimated further £31 million savings to be found over the next two years.
Notes to editors:
The council paper proposes pre-consultation meeting for the following communities:
Notes to editors: These potential options will be considered at pre-consultation meetings:
St Kierans* to Castlehill
Ardchonnel* to Dalmally / Kilmartin
North Bute to Rothesay Joint campus
Toward to Inellan
Luss to Hermitage Primary School
Achaleven to Dunbeg
Achaleven to Lochnell
Ardchattan to Lochnell
Minard to Furnace
Minard to Lochgilphead
Rhunahaorine to Glenbarr
Clachan to Tarbert
Skipness to Tarbert
Ashfield to Lochgilphead
Ashfield to Tayvallich
* These schools have no pupils in them and are not currently open.