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Dunvegan primary in the spotlight as education minister admits 12,000 Highlands and Islands pupils taught in poor conditions

Local councillor Ruraidh Stewart says there are puddles on the floor and mould on the walls.

Dunvegan is one of the Highland schools waiting for news on a Scottish Government funding bid. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson
Dunvegan is one of the Highland schools waiting for news on a Scottish Government funding bid. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Skye councillor Ruraidh Stewart says he is “appalled” by the condition of Dunvegan Primary School, and called on the Scottish Government to announce the next round of schools investment.

A decision on the Learning Estate Investment Programme (LEIP) was due by the end of 2022, but councils across Scotland are still waiting.

That delay forced Highland Council to push back its own budget, and Mr Stewart says communities are left in limbo.

This includes the village of Dunvegan in Skye, which is waiting for a new primary school.

Education minister under pressure over Highland schools

Mr Stewart’s comments follow questions in Holyrood about the condition of schools in the Highlands and Islands.

Under pressure from Jamie Halcro Johnston MSP, education minister Shirley-Anne Somerville admitted that 11,989 pupils are learning in school buildings that are not in a good or satisfactory condition.

“The cabinet secretary will be aware that there are 64 primary schools across the Highland Council area that are in poor condition,” said Mr Johnston.

“I have been contacted about one school in that category – Dunvegan Primary School, on Skye – in relation to which there are concerns over damp, mould and regular flooding, as well as a number of other conditions.”

Education minister Shirley-Anne Somerville faced questions in Holyrood over the condition of Highland schools.

Mr Johnston said fewer than one in five Highland primary schools are in good condition. He added that Highland has the lowest levels of literacy and numeracy in Scotland.

Those figures emerged as part of a national benchmarking exercise in 2022, though Highland attainment has improved considerably since then.

Mr Johnston continued: “As the Scottish Government continues to squeeze council budgets across Scotland, can the cabinet secretary say when primary school pupils in the Highlands will be able to be taught in safe school buildings that help, rather than risk hindering, their learning?”

Ms Somerville said the £1.8 billion schools for the future programme already delivered 117 new schools. The LEIP programme added another 37 school projects. In the Highlands, this includes the Tain 3-18 campus, Broadford Primary School and Nairn Academy.

But it’s phase three of the LEIP programme that has politicians on the edge of their seats. The Scottish Government has yet to make any funding announcement, nearly four months on from the anticipated deadline.

Dunvegan school is flooded and mouldy, says local councillor

In the meantime, Dunvegan, Beauly, Park and Tornagrain primary schools are all hanging on. So is the ASL school St Clement’s in Dingwall.

Speaking to the P&J, councillor Ruraidh Stewart called for action.

“I thank conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston for raising in parliament concerns over the condition of the Highland School estate, including the recurring damp, mould, and flooding at Dunvegan primary school.”

Conservative councillor Ruraidh Stewart.

Mr Stewart recently visited the school to see the problems for himself.

“I was appalled to see the dilapidated conditions that pupils and staff are expected to learn and work in,” he said.

On his visit, Mr Stewart was shown how an old coal bunker underneath the building is causing regular floods. He describes seeing tide marks on the stairwell and says the school once had to call the fire brigade to drain the building. The dining room had puddles of water on the floor, and Mr Stewart also noted blown windows, condensation and mould.

Mr Stewart said the minister’s answer on LEIP funding “provides no clarity for pupils, teachers and parents of Dunvegan Primary School”.

He told the P&J that while the community understands the challenging budget situation, they want their new school “done yesterday”.

As the P&J previously reported, this is about far more than a school for the people of Dunvegan. It’s part of a masterplan to deliver a new school, housing development and state-of-the-art sporting facilities.

Locals say it could help reverse population decline and keep young people on Skye.

Education chairman says masterplan is still on the table

Highland Council education chairman John Finlayson is a Skye councillor too. He previously told the P&J the council made a commitment to Dunvegan, which it has a duty to deliver.

That was prior to the tumultuous Highland Council budget, set in what the council leader described as a “perfect storm”. The administration was forced to close a £49m revenue budget gap, and admitted its capital plan is not affordable.

Head teacher Sam Muir outside Dunvegan Primary School. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Without any certainty on the Scottish Government’s side of the bargain, the council had to shuffle its own money around. This allows the pipeline of new schools to keep moving, at least for now. But if the Scottish Government doesn’t give the green light – or offers less money  – some projects could be cut altogether.

Mr Finlayson remains hopeful, and says progress will not stop.

“While it is disappointing that the announcement regarding the LEIP 3 funding bid has been delayed, the council and community have continued to work together to move forward all the planning and development issues that have been agreed,” he said.

“Dunvegan is part of a masterplan project and regular stakeholder meetings continue to take place. All local members are invited to these and councillor Stewart is of course invited. I am sure he would gain further insight into how things are going, if he was able to attend.”

Mr Stewart acknowledges that work is continuing, but hit out at the Scottish Government delays, saying progress is “desperately needed”.

“I’m a bit concerned that this is keeping the ball rolling, but what we need is to push on. We have a community left in limbo.”

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