A decision by Highland Council committee has been criticised by the MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch after it voted to postpone plans for cluster head teachers only in selected parts of the Highlands based on the volume of complaints received by its chairman.
Councillor Drew Millar, chair of the Education, Care and Adult Services (ECAS) Committee, proposed that decisions on the Associated School Groups (ASGs) in Mallaig and Farr be deferred until its next meeting on 1 March to allow for discussions with teachers, parents and other stakeholders. Councillors voted 15 to nine in favour, with one abstention.
There has been no official consultation across the Highlands on the contentious paper – which could lead to some head teachers being in charge of up to five rural schools – and earlier this week a high number of concerns from constituents prompted Kate Forbes MSP to write to the council calling for more engagement on the issue.
But after the meeting the MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch described the decisions as treating Highland schools “like the X-Factor” instead of facing up to a lack of consultation on a significant change to rural education.
Kate Forbes MSP said: “I am very glad that Mallaig has been exempted from the plans for cluster schools until 1 March but I would have liked to see that delay applied to other cluster schools too.
“I've received a lot of correspondence from parents, teachers and others who are deeply concerned at the lack of consultation so I'm stunned that only Mallaig and Farr were exempted.
“There hasn’t been sufficient consultation in other parts of the Highlands and surely the sensible thing would have been to deal with it comprehensively across the whole region.
“These plans are significant and parents need to have answers before they are pushed through.
“With plans of this significance, you have got to take people with you. That means answering parents' questions and asking about parents' concerns.
“One of the councillors even said that some head teachers weren’t fully aware of what was being discussed at the meeting.
“Given that there was no official consultation for people to express their views, it is not right to base decisions for the future management of schools on the volume of complaints received by the chair – we are talking about the future of the Scottish education system, it’s not the X-Factor.”
The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch added: “As I previously stated, I completely understand that the council has some very difficult decisions to make with limited resources, but one thing they are not short on is time.
“What is being proposed is a significant restructure in the management of our local schools, and one would assume that major changes such as this must go through a robust consultation.
“I don’t expect everyone to be happy with the end result, but Highland Council must allow teachers, parents and other stakeholders the opportunity to have their say in a transparent and fair way.”
Earlier this week, Kate Forbes MSP wrote to Highland Council asking for clarification on what consultation has taken place, what head teachers are expected to do, and whether the proposals will need the full backing of Highland Council.
In her constituency, schools in and around Plockton, Invergarry, Mallaig and the Small Isles cluster are all be affected.
Across the wider Highland area, the proposed new arrangements will take place in schools in Daviot, Dornoch, Lochcarron, and the north coast of Scotland.