Councillors at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar confirmed decisions to close 2 Western Isles Primary Schools in a series of votes at the full Comhairle last night. Moves to overturn the decisions were defeated by 17 votes to 13 on both Seilibost in Harris and Carloway in Lewis.
Carloway has 19 pupils on the current school roll whilst Seilibost has 6 pupils.
A decision to discontinue S1/S2 provision at Shawbost was also confirmed in a 16-13 vote. On Lionel school a decision was taken by 15 votes to 14 to keep the school open, which could leave the pupils there as the only children in Scotland being educated in an S1/S2 secondary.
The Comhairle decisions, except that on Lionel S1/S2, are dependent on the outcome of a Scottish Government appeal against a Court of Session Judicial Review finding that the Comhairle had followed the rules correctly in its schools rationalisation procedures.
The Scottish Government had previously called in the school closures and told the Comhairle their consultation process was flawed and the closures could not proceed. The Judicial Review overturned that decision but was subsequently appealed by the Scottish Government.
The Comhairle cannot proceed with closure whilst an appeal is pending but last night’s votes mean the 2 primary schools and the S1/S2 provision at Shawbost are earmarked for closure in a years time-if the Comhairle wins the Judicial Review appeal.
The Comhairle confirmed that it would defend the appeal by the Scottish Government in last night’s decisions. The Comhairle also agreed to seek to recover the expenses of the legal action.
Comhairle Leader Angus Campbell said: “I know how deeply many in these communities feel about their schools but I, and I believe the rest of the Councillors, genuinely want all children in the Islands to have the best possible education in the best possible buildings. We may have disagreements about how we achieve that but I believe we have gone a long way to achieving that goal in tonight’s decisions. Obviously we have a legal disagreement with the Scottish Government and the continued progressing of our strategy will depend on the result of the appeal that Scottish Ministers have launched. I am pleased that Councillors agreed to defend the appeal and there was no disagreement on that. I am also pleased that we are well on our way to achieving the vision for education that will mean the vast majority of pupils receive the best possible education in the best possible facilities. The Comhairle is in the process of building 6 new schools which will mean 46% of our school population are being educated in state of the art buildings in settings which enable pupils to take the fullest advantage of the excellent aims of Curriculum for Excellence. My aim, and that of the majority of the Comhairle, is, as far as is possible, to increase the number of pupils who have those educational advantages. Our responsibility now is to ensure that those pupils who are moving to new schools take every advantage of their improved educational environment”.
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