A Highland primary school with just 47 pupils has been declared “full” despite a recent £4 million refurbishment to allow the school to cope with 75 pupils.
Any new children who move into the Cromarty Primary School catchment area this year will have to be bused to one of the nearby primaries including Resolis, Culbockie or Avoch.
The bizarre situation has arisen due to a Highland Council policy that says that if a school roll goes above the number of teachers allocated to pupils, it will allocate any extra students to a neighbouring school rather than employ an additional teacher.
Cromarty Parent Council said the policy was preventing rural population growth, rather than supporting it – one of Highland Council’s stated aims.
Denis Torley of the parent council said: “We used to have a school roll of 99 when I moved here 20 years ago. Now it is down to 47.
“We want to encourage people to come but who is going to move to a town where you have to send your children to the next town to go to school?
“Watching your children being bused past new but empty classrooms to a school outwith your new community is hardly a welcoming prospect for young families considering relocating here.”
Mr Torley added: “This policy of capping academic year rolls may also be affecting other rural schools and will, if it persists, lead to falling school rolls in rural areas, as these ‘roll caps’ will be difficult to overcome while any new pupils beyond that number are to be bused to schools in larger towns and villages.
“If Highland Council are really serious about encouraging rural population growth they should measure their education policies against how they support or confound this ambition.”
The school currently has two teachers. Parents would like to see the council employ a third so that the building can be used to its full capacity.
A Highland Council spokeswoman said: “We now allocate all school staff fairly according to actual school roll on census day, which is national practice in both rural and urban areas across Scotland and is how schools are funded nationally.
“Our children in Highland benefit overall as our pupil teacher ratio is well below the national average and is in the top quartile across Scotland.”
Black Isle councillor Craig Fraser has branded the council’s decision “illogical” and an act of “madness”.
Mr Fraser has asked for an urgent meeting with education committee chairman John Finlayson, along with PTA and community members, to discuss the situation.
“The bottom line is the school is underutilised and new classrooms are lying empty with space for up to 30 more pupils.
“Frankly, it’s bonkers.”
The councillor also pointed out that permission for 100 new houses has been granted for Rosemarkie and Avoch.
“Where will they put those children?” he said.
“We’re trying to get the average age down in Cromarty. We don’t want it turning into a retirement home.”
In an effort to persuade education officials to think again, Mr Fraser has also set-out seven points back up his claim the failure to use the £3.8 million classrooms is “illogical”.
“The decision means that one particular family with three primary age children have to split them up and send them to to different schools.
“In its foster care policy, Highland council states it is bad practice to split up siblings.
“In my mind, this decision is clearly in conflict with these aspirations.
“The decision also conflicts with the council’s wish to create safer routes to school, while busing pupils to other schools on the Black Isle is in conflict with the council’s commitment on climate change.”
He added: “Avoch needs £1 million spent on it to bring it up to standard, whereas Cromarty is an A-class condition school that needs just £40,000 for maintenance.
“Using those two extra classrooms has got to be cheaper.”