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Cultercullen parents vow to fight ‘ridiculous’ class changes

Parents fear their kids' "thriving" school of 49 pupils will be reduced to two composite classes.

Parents are 'very worried' at the prospect of Cultercullen School losing a teacher and a class. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson
Parents are 'very worried' at the prospect of Cultercullen School losing a teacher and a class. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Parents of every child at Cultercullen School have signed a letter calling for a threatened reduction in the number of classes at the school to be scrapped.

The Aberdeenshire primary school faces being turned from a three-class to a two-class school from August.

Families were told this was due to the council changing its rules on teacher-to-pupil ratios as a result of teacher shortages in Aberdeenshire.

Aberdeenshire Council said it was “working through a staffing allocation exercise”, but denied it was a result of a teacher shortage.

Such is the level of concern among parents and carers, 65 – representing every pupil at the school – have signed a letter sent to local councillors and MSPs.

Cultercullen parents have written to councillors and MSP

The letter has been sent to councillors Jenny Nicol, Andrew Hassan, Paul Johnston and Derek Ritchie, as well as local MSP Gillian Martin. Aberdeenshire head of education Susan Smith also received the letter, as did education committee members David Keating (chairman) and Anne Simpson (vice-chairwoman).

Gillian Martin MSP has taken up the parents’ case. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Parents were told of the possible changes by the school’s acting head teacher Jenny Chalmers at a meeting of the school’s parent council.

The meeting was told that previously the maximum number of children in a composite class (a class containing more than one year group) was 20, but this had been increased to 25.

As Cultercullen School – near Udny – has 49 children on its roll for next year, this means it may only qualify for two classes.

As well as removing a teacher, it means Primary 1 to 3 children would be in one class, and Primary 5 to 7 in another, with Primary 4 children split between the two classes.

Parents blast ‘short-sighted’ proposals

Megan Hicks, chairwoman of Cultercullen parent council, said the school is currently “in a fantastic place”, with “three great teachers and three classes.”

She added: “It has taken a lot of work to get to this point, with years of probationary teachers and uncertainty. This period of stability has resulted in a great inspection report last year.

Cultercullen School. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

“The school is thriving, the children are doing really well and it has been wonderful to see.

“Then the council threatens to pull the rug from under it all by saying we may have to lose a teacher and a class because we have one child too few on the rolls for next session.

“It seems ridiculous and short-sighted. What happens if a new family moves into the area, which is very likely to happen?

“Will we then go back to three classes, with more disruption to the children, or will there even be a teacher available?

“If what we are being told is true, there is a severe shortage of teachers, so we would probably end up being left with two classes that are over capacity.

“There used to be a buffer in the system for this sort of situation, but that doesn’t seem to be considered necessary any more.

“We are calling on the council to stick with three teachers at the school.”

‘After a period of stability, this is very worrying’

At least week’s parent council meeting, parents said they were worried about the possibility of losing a teacher and a class.

Concerns included the impact of splitting the Primary 4 class in half, the disruption of the changes to the children, and the impact on their mental health.

‘Ultimately it’s the children who will suffer’: Concerned parents outside Cultercullen School. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Jenny Fyall, secretary of the parent council, said: “It’s clear there is extremely strong feeling about this among the parents.

“After a period of stability for the school, this is very worrying.

“As there are 49 children on the rolls for August it seems highly likely that the school will end up with at least 50 children at some point during next year, as there are lots of new homes being built in the catchment area.

“So the council’s rigid adherence to the ratio rule seems short-sighted and ultimately it’s the children who will suffer.”

Aberdeenshire Council have been allocated 68 probationary primary teachers out of the 94 requested, and 20 out of 44 requested for secondary schools.

MSP to speak with council and Cabinet Secretary for Education

Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin said she would be seeking clarification from the council that the number of classes is based on pupil numbers, rather than available teacher numbers.

She added: “As the decision has yet to be made on Cultercullen, I would hope this allows the families and I time to speak with the council to ensure that the individual circumstances of this school are taken into account.

“I will also be writing to the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills [Jenny Gilruth] in respect of the concerns raised around the allocation of probationary teachers.”

The Cultercullen parents’ concerns will be raised with Cabinet Secretary for Education, Jenny Gilruth. Image: Chris Sumner/DC Thomson

Local councillor stands ‘firmly behind’ Cultercullen parents

Local councillor Jenny Nicol said: “I stand firmly behind Cultercullen School in their efforts to retain their class teacher.

“While this decision sits with Aberdeenshire Council officers, I feel that they should prioritise the exceptional learning environment that Cultercullen offers its pupils.

“I have had assurances from director of education Laurence Findlay that school-specific issues will be considered.

“For Cultercullen, there had previously been instability in their permanent staff, and their highly- regarded head teachers have been on secondment elsewhere in Aberdeenshire.”

‘No decisions have yet been made’, says council

An Aberdeenshire Council spokesman said: “We appreciate any possible changes to class structures and how they’re configured can cause anxiety and concern.

“We have a staffing formula in place to ensure consistency, transparency and fairness across all schools in Aberdeenshire.

“At this stage, officers are currently working through a staffing allocation exercise for the next academic year.

“No decisions have yet been made, but where there are school-specific issues, these are being looked at.

“Any changes made will always ensure that learning and teaching meet the needs of all learners and progress the school’s improvement.”