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‘An abhorrent situation’: Tullynessle parents in shock over nursery closure

Parents say Tullynessle nursery has been treated as “collateral damage”, and is being unfairly punished for the school’s low roll.

A mother and her child
Emily Carter may be forced to put son Elliot into school a year early, after the sudden news of Tullynessle nursery's closure. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Families claim they will be forced to cut down on their work hours and even send their kids to school a year early, after learning that Tullynessle School and nursery is to close.

Aberdeenshire Council said it made the decision to mothball Tullynessle School near Alford due to the school roll dropping to eight pupils in August.

However, with 15 kids, the school’s nursery is running at 75% of capacity. With the nursery being forced to close at the same time as the school, parents said the nursery was “collateral damage” and was being unfairly punished for the school’s low roll.

Parents were informed at a meeting with Anne Marie Davies Macleod, Aberdeenshire Council’s head of service for Early Years, that Tullynessle School and nursery will be closing at the end of June.

Children and parents holding up a banner reading "we ALL say... Save Tullynessle school and nursery! No mothballing needed!"
Parents were left shocked at the ‘sudden’ decision to close Tullynessle nursery. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

In a letter to parents following the meeting, the council’s director of education Laurence Findlay said the decision to mothball any school “is not something that we do lightly.”

He added: “We understand that this decision will be upsetting for your family, and may have come as a surprise to you. But we must do this in the best care, educational and social interests for your children.”

Within days of the decision, nearly 1,000 people had signed a petition against closing Tullynessle nursery.

Bemused parents say Tullynessle nursery is ‘flourishing’

Emily Carter and Erica Manning were just two parents who spoke to The P&J about how the “sudden” decision had turned their lives upside down.

While they both said they understood the decision to close the school, they argued that the nursery is “flourishing”.

“We’re sad for the school,” said Emily, “but we can see that it isn’t viable.

“But the nursery isn’t just viable, it’s flourishing. As of April next year, we’ll be at 100% capacity with children we’ve got for the next couple of intakes.

“When we asked the council at the meeting why the nursery couldn’t stay open, we were told: ‘It’s not a consideration.’

“It’s collateral damage.”

The play area outside Tullynessle nursery
Parents think Tullynessle nursery could continue as an outdoor nursery, like those at Haddo, Duthie Park and Hazlehead. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Emily, whose son still had a year left at Tullynessle nursery after the summer, added: “The council are being incredibly short-sighted by closing the nursery. It’s a bulldozing and short-sighted move.

“They could turn our ready-made and flourishing nursery into a wonderful, fully outdoor nursery. It’s practically running as an outdoor nursery now.

Haddo, Duthie Park and Hazlehead all have outstanding outdoor nurseries which are all council-funded and not attached to a school, where children are thriving because of their surroundings and the staff. All of which Tullynessle already has.”

‘I am so angry it has come to this with no warning at all’

Erica has one child at the nursery, and another who was due to start after summer.

She spoke of her anger and shock at the sudden decision, and her anxiety over what comes next.

“This is the first nursery that has been snowballed due to the school having to close,” said Erica.

“I am so angry that it has come to this with no warning at all.

“I knew there were discussions about the school, but not the nursery shutting. So it’s come as a complete shock.

“Now all the parents need to find spaces in the other nurseries that are already nearly full.

Outside Tullynessle nursery
Tullynessle nursery has a healthy pupil roll. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

“The nursery has 14 new starts ready for the August intake, plus more at the October and January intakes.”

Drastic decisions looming for families after Tullynessle nursery closure

Both Emily and Erica are worried about the impact the closure of Tullynessle nursery will have on their families, with drastic decisions looming for both.

“I’m now in a position where I’m having to consider putting my little boy – who is not ready for school – into school a year early,” said Emily.

“Developmentally, emotionally, physically, in every sense, he’s not ready. But I might have no choice.

“I’m now being forced into putting him into Towie, which over the course of the week will be over 250 miles in the car – my daughter goes to school at Keig and I work as a mobile chiropodist.

“That has a direct impact not only on our finances but our safety, especially in winter.

“It’s either that or putting him to school a year earlier than he is ready.

“I’m left thinking not what’s best for my child, but what’s less damaging. That’s abhorrent, and an awful situation to be in.

Tullynessle school sign
Parents said they understand the logic behind the school closing, but that the ‘thriving’ nursery is ‘collateral damage’. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

“It should be about Getting It Right For Every Child, and Aberdeenshire Council are not doing that.”

‘I’ll lose £200 a month. It’s unfeasible’

And Erica says Tullynessle nursery closing will have a radical impact on her career.

“I don’t know how I will manage to continue to work,” said Erica.

“I’d have to drive to Towie, which is 20 minutes in the wrong direction from my job.

“So I’d have to reduce my work hours, which is going to cost me £200 a month in lost wages. Plus the extra fuel costs. And those roads can be an issue in the winter as well.

“It’s unfeasible. How can they do that?

“It’s not on. They can’t just suddenly announce this closure with no consultancy of any parent at the school or nursery.”

Local councillor slams decision-making process

Local councillor Gwyneth Petrie took aim at Aberdeenshire Council’s mothballing policy, saying it “completely removed any democratic oversight and decision-making over these matters.”

Local councillor Gwyneth Petrie
‘We have no idea on what basis closure decisions are made’: Local councillor Gwyneth Petrie. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson

She added: “What we are now seeing is a similar decision-making process in respect of Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) settings, where officers are making decisions that councillors can’t challenge, but without even a policy to cover it.

“We therefore have no idea on what basis closure decisions are made.

“When I was informed about the decision in respect of Tullynessle, I asked that a policy around the closure or mothballing of ELC settings be brought forward as a matter of urgency. Because it is simply not acceptable to have no democratic oversight, which limits our ability to represent our constituents on such matters.”

Aberdeenshire Council were contacted for comment.