A major overhaul of school management in the Highlands – including the “clustering” of schools under one head teacher – has been put on hold amid claims the council failed to properly communicate its plans.
The local authority agreed to a “pause” after the director of care and learning admitted it was “over ambitious” though “progress has been made”.
Plans for Associated School Groups (ASGs) to turn some into clusters have already sparked fears among parents and teachers that standards will slip.
Yesterday, the council heard how the introduction and consultation led to concern.
Tain and Easter Ross Councillor Fiona Robertson said local ideas were dismissed as “not ambitious enough.”
She said: “We recently moved into the Tain ASG to carry out the consultation there and we have found it an extremely negative process. From beginning to end there has been nothing but problems with the whole thing.
“It has created, sadly, an impression and a feeling of distrust towards Highland Council, created very unsettled communities which certainly were not there in the first place.”
Graham MacKenzie agreed and called for local members to be included “first and foremost” in the process of rolling out the programme.
Councillor for Inverness Ness-side Alasdair Christie defended the programme by noting that “we are leading the way in Scotland for this.”
He said: “This is about sustaining educational provision against the backdrop of reducing budgets and recruiting head teachers and falling rolls.
“The scope and extent of the number of schools and ASGs that we could get through, deal with and come to conclusion on was very ambitious.”
Mr Christie added: “A lot of the problem is to do with communication we were being told things that were quite obviously not correct, were not what was being proposed.”
Director of care and learning, Bill Alexander, said: “This is a pause, two steps back to take five steps forward.”
“Critically we need to invest further in articulating and restating the purpose, vision and objectives of the programme.
“I am proposing that future engagement has to allow sufficient time and focus for us to look at a smaller number of ASGs”
According to Mr Alexander, that would involve “promoting understanding of the options and opportunities regarding any new arrangements.”