Highland Council banned from closing schools on Skye

Parents and pupils on Skye were celebrating last night after a sheriff banned Highland Council from closing their schools.

Education chiefs had planned to merge primaries at Dunvegan, Edinbane, Knockbeck and Struan, and provide a new £8million building at Dunvegan to serve all four areas.

The local communities fought the plans – and the independent Closure Review Panel agreed with them and blocked the closures.

Council leaders appealed the decision, but yesterday Portree Sheriff James Tierney backed the panel’s decision and gave protection to the smaller schools.

And as Skye families enjoyed the good news last night, it emerged the council still hopes to build the new community school.

Local authority education chairman Drew Millar said he was disappointed with the court ruling, but it was hailed by campaigners who had questioned the thoroughness of the consultation process.

Councillor Millar said: “I’m disappointed for the sake of the children who were going to benefit from a 21st century school.

“The majority of pupils will now be deprived of that.

“As chairman, and as a Skye councillor, I will try to ensure that we build a new community school in Dunvegan for the children of north-west Skye. I certainly hope it does happen.

“Why should the parents and children of Dunvegan lose out because one or two parents of very small schools have had this amalgamation decision overturned?”

It is understood available sites will be considered for a new school close to a proposed Dunvegan sports facility at Lonmore, south of the village.

Tim Spencer, a member of Edinbane Parent Council, who has a son at the nine-pupil school, said: “It’s good news. Our concern now is that they reopen the nurseries at the smaller schools because they’ve been dragging their heels on the grounds that there was a legal process ongoing.”

Knockbreck Parent Council secretary, Fiona MacDonald, who has a daughter at the school, said: “We’re delighted that they’ve ruled in our favour. It gives people the chance to have a choice of where they send their children.

“There is a growing number of young children in Waternish and the fact that the school is safe from closure means these children can be educated in their own community.”

In his judgment, Sheriff Tierney said: “I consider that on the evidence it considered, having regard to the provisions of the 2010 Act and applying Lady Smith’s test to the whole matter except for the evidence and findings relating to the nursery classes, the panel has not erred in law and its final disposal cannot be faulted.”

In an official statement last night a spokeswoman for the council said the authority continued to believe that a new community school for north-west Skye would have been the best long-term option for sustainable education in the area and would be a valuable asset in the community.

She added: “We accept that this view was never shared by parents of three of the small schools that would have closed as part of this proposal.

“We note the detailed consideration given to this matter by Sheriff Tierney, will take account of the points he makes and will not now be pursuing the closure of these schools.”

In the short term, the council will reassess the condition of the building at Dunvegan Primary School and take that into account as it considers its capital priorities.

It will also assess the demand for nursery provision at Struan and Edinbane, where none is currently available at the two primary schools.

Local SNP MSP Dave Thompson said “sense has prevailed and the concerns of parents have been listened to”.