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The truths they don't want you to read....

Friday, November 05, 2010

Rural schools and teachers

The Council spends 42% of it's budget on Education.

Many of these costs are fixed - teachers' jobs and salaries are secure, and teachers can only be sacked in exceptional circumstances - and few significant costs can be changed in any meaningful time scale.

The closure of the rural schools became inevitable as soon as the Council decided to build the new schools.  The centralisation of education is not new, as the empty derelict schools in Uist will testify, but is an inevitable result of a declining school roll in every area.

Stop: yes some areas seem to have some growth in pupil numbers, but the supertanker that is the education system doesn't react to annual or quinquennial changes, but to long term trends.  And they are all down.

The battle was lost when the previous Labour Government decided that the new schools had to be one building project and funded by PFI.  At that point the die was cast.

The current SNP Government have promised to protect rural schools, whilst simultaneously approving a Council funding package that explicitly included the closure of rural schools as an approved element of funding the gap between capital costs and the grants/loans from Government.

There will almost inevitably be a symbolic call-in of one or two of the 11 closures, but as the Government have already told the Council how they must re-consult to meet the Government's requirements for approval, it is nothing more than window dressing.

Have the Council made the right decisions?  I don't think that they had any choice but to make the decisions they have made as they were constrained by past decisions, funding problems and Government instructions.

I look at some of the Councillors who voted for the overall strategy, but most certainly not the schools in their own areas, and shake my head in disbelief.

The Council is not the bad guy in this decision.  The blame lies with successive Governments - including the current one - who have failed to stem the economic decline of the islands, and who have failed to find the mechanisms to retain the people in the islands to secure the schools, the economy and the future.  Despite the promises they all churn out at election time.

The islands population may be stabilising; but that is only because we are gaining retirees to replace the young we are losing.  But that isn't going to fill the schools, or keep a maternity ward in the hospital.

Cllr Angus Campbell once proposed a bounty be paid for every child born in the islands, to which I would add that a further one be paid at entry into Primary school and again at Secondary school.  That might encourage the parents, and the challenge then lies with encouraging the children to remain or return and to - in turn - fill the maternity wards and the schools.


Anonymous said...

I hear what you say, angus - but this is going to be a difficult one.

You say that the Council are not the bad boys in this.

Could someone, under FOI, ask the Director of Finance what 'balances' he inherited when Robert Bennie left and just exactly how those have been used to keep elected members and others happy ? And what monies have been returned from BCCI ?

Could someone ask, under FOI, what 'gap' in revenue and capital funding there is for the WISP project and how it is to be met ?

Could someone ask, under FOI, just how the Council is proposing to meet the £5m savings this year - and, as I understand it, a further £5 and £4 million savings cumulatively in the two following financial years ?

Could someone ask, under FOI. whether the Council will be selling off the closed school premises to garner much needed capital funds rather than simply 'giving' the premises to each community who will doubtless be expecting that they will get revenue funds from the Council to maintain them ?

It comes down to money I'm afraid. The Western Isles, unlike some other councils has been living high on the hog for a number of years. For many reasons.

Councillors have become used to having their every whim met - 'throw money at it' is the dictum.

Well the chickens are now roosting. Elected members - who have become used to a certain way of doing things - don't realise.


Anonymous said...

Some of us would consider moving back and filling the maternity wards and schools with children if the power the churches have over everyday life was weakened.

Flirty Gerty said...

There are some irreconcilable issues here. The first is simple maths: to keep the level of services - including education - that we desire requires a population threshold of around 25,000.

We fall below that level because if issues we all understand well: jobs draw people away from rural areas and into the urban areas; our population is ageing and there are few incentives to have large families; and other, cultural factors.

The solutions, however, are the real problem. The Council's preferred solution is to get the Gaelic diaspora to return: the thinking goes - if all our talented Gaels could only come home, then all would be well in the islands.

But the reality is more uncomfortable - those who have moved away have done so for reasons that aren't entirely economic. They've moved because they aspire to something different, to a life of further possibilities, to cheaper travel, to live their lives differently.

The people who want to come and live here (myself included) do so because we value what is here: select from a list which includes culture, language, clean air, low crime, open spaces, faith, community, low property prices. But we are not Gaels and never will be - even if our children go into Gaelic medium (like mine) and even if we participate in local churches and voluntary organisations we will always be 'incomers'.

Some countries have faced up squarely to this problem: Canada, for one - which welcomes migrants with open arms, and then sets about making them 'new Canadians'. We need to make 'new Hebrideans' out of incomers who want to stay - helping new arrivals to understand language, culture, social norms and traditions - and politely but firmly showing the door to people who won't integrate.

But until we face the simple facts of human geography we will continue to struggle with closing schools, losing maternity wards and the like.

And for me? I intend to be buried here. I have three school-age children who I hope will stay here when they grow up. I hope they will marry locals and I look forward to hordes of Gaelic-speaking grandchildren, attending the remaining local village schools. Incomer? I wear the badge with pride.

Anonymous said...

Amen to that, 7.19.

Anonymous said...

6:19PM Why can't you be the one who asks and puts in the FOIs?

Anonymous said...

7.19: breed them out - that's what I say

Anonymous said...

Methinks 6:19 already knows the answers, and might just be a tad too close to ask the questions in public

Anonymous said...

6:19pm why can't YOU do the FOIs??? why should it be Angus or anyone else associated with this blog. If you want answers you have to have the balls to ask the questions..

Anonymous said...

7:19 - could not agree more...

Anonymous said...

7.33 I think you have a bit of a distorted view of what happens in Canada. Yes people are expected to conform to certain constitutional values, just as they are in the USA. But people are also free to conduct their lives as they see fit with in the laws and enjoy a much greater freedom of speech than we do in the UK. Ethnic groups also influence policy.

"Helping new arrivals to understand language, culture, social norms and traditions - and politely but firmly showing the door to people who won't integrate."

How exactly do you see this working out? Are 'islanders' and 'incomers' who don't conform to your standards going to be exiled or just incomers? Are you going organise lynch mobs to hound people out of their homes or just send them a letter asking them to vacate? And who is going to decide on the 'language, social norms and traditions'?

I don't think Jesus would have thought much of your intolerant attitude.

Anonymous said...


Yep and the rest.


That would be 'Anonymous' @ 4.45 ?

Tell you what.

You put your name, address and phone number on this blog and let's talk privately about who has balls.


Anonymous said...

Well this propsoed closure of schools is interesting. Could someone tell me (because I seem to have missed it) how the management of the education department, including the multifarious, very well paid and very well expensed education development service is also going to be 'rationalised' ?

Anonymous said...

I'm not the one telling someone else to do your dirty work...

Anonymous said...

I see (the hebrides news) that there are campaigns to keep certain schools open. Could the parents advise us what civic services they are prepared personally to forego to afford this ?

Anonymous said...

1:54am or how about how much more they are prepared to pay per annum in local taxes to keep the schools open.

Anonymous said...

1.54 AM

How about making a few cuts in services in Stornoway. Rural villages are quite happy to forego weekly refuse collections in Stornoway, Street lights to be switched off earlier, and only have the pavements and roads in Stornoway swept once every six months.

StornowayCarParkers said...

Everybody realises that cuts have to be made but some issues are more important than just simply cutting costs. be schooled These rural areas are quite simply being abandoned and left to their fate. The Council would never suggest that Stornoway pupils should be schooled in Back seven miles away, but it's ok for rural pupils to be made to travel the same distance and more. Everything is geared towards Stornoway, influenced at the high end of the council, and very little is done outside of the town and surrounds. Why, indeed, should Stornoway residents get weekly refuse collections while we mere plebs have to make do with fortnightly collections? I'm sure that our Glorious Leader, a Stornoway resident, could manage just like the rest of us, or does he eat twice as much as anyone else?

Anonymous said...

Clearly the glorious leader eats twice as much as he's twice as big as me round the middle. Also people could spare a thought for the children of Uig and Pairc who already travel well over and hour each way every day. I hope that when the time limited bus service for Ness is brought in they will be reviewing the service in these areas and laying on extra services, similarly the after-school clubs which CNES have promised.