MORAY COUNCILLORS ARE being branded for ‘scaremongering’ as they revisit threats that schools will need to be closed in the face of the funding crisis.
Ahead of a meeting of the audit and performance committee this week, Administration leaders are threatening the possible need to close schools as they face ‘insurmountable” repair bills.
However, parents are hitting back at what they call “political scaremongering” from an Administration that has already attempted to force through a review of the school estate that would have seen schools being closed.
Several have voiced their concerns over comments from the Convener who insisted in a weekend report that “there are too many schools in Moray” – despite prior claims that new schools are needing to be built and millions have been spent or is being spent on improvements to several others.
In the report to councillors this week five schools are specified as not being up to standard – Buckie High, Keith Grammar, Burghead Primary and St Sylvester’s Primary, plus Elgin High School which is already the subject of replacement.
Lossiemouth High School is not listed as failing to meet standards – and yet that school has been scheduled as the next to be replaced by the local authority with funding already in place, sparking questions over why it was given a higher priority than Buckie High School.
The Independent/Tory administration attempted to force through an expensive review of the Moray school estate in 2014 that crumbled under fierce public condemnation. The Sustainable Education Review suggested closure of several smaller primary schools but the most contentious proposals would have seen Milnes High School close – again, a school that is not listed as failing to meet current standards.
That was defeated in the council chamber – however, Council Leader Stewart Cree intimated as recently as May this year that school closures would again return to the agenda, saying: “We have a very large school estate for the size of the authority, and in some cases are still educating our children in expensive Victorian buildings.
“At the moment, any discussion on school closures is constrained by the moratorium – but following May’s council elections [next year] it will be up to that administration to decide whether to maintain that. Parents may agree that having one modern school in place of three old ones is a good idea.”
That line was repeated at the weekend by Convener Allan Wright, who said: “I believe there are too many schools in Moray for the number of pupils we have, the geography and the shortage of teachers we have.”
Councillor Wright added that once again the local authority to go to public consultations – which in the past have been heavily criticised for ignoring the views of those being consulted. He added: “If you are faced with say 10 potentially difficult ideas then it is only right you go to the general public. People need to appreciate that difficult decision need to be taken.”
insideMoray was contacted by several parents over the weekend concerned at the latest comments from Council leaders – and, perhaps understandably given the reaction of Councillors to previous comments, did not wish to be named.
One parent with a child at St Sylvester’s, one of the schools said not to meet building standards, commented: “I’m confused by this as my understanding is that a number of improvements were made in the last year or so to improve the standard of the school, including rewiring.
“I think the main problem at St Sylvester’s is overcrowding as it was never meant to have as many pupils as it does. However, it was only built in the 1990’s and, going by a Freedom of Information request recently, East End primary is probably in a worse condition.
“For me, the questions that need to be asked just now is why Moray is in this position – we have seen, recently, millions being spent on four existing schools at Seafield, Millbank, Applegrove and St Gerardines, as well as the new Elgin High School and next Lossiemouth High School.
“In my mind then questions need to be answered as to why Moray Council is in this situation and why historically they have failed to invest and maintain the school estate – while ultimately wasting millions on a failed road bid in Elgin.”
Another Buckie High School parent added: “We have been well aware for a long time that the fabric of Buckie High School was in trouble so it is hardly a surprise that it is listed as one most in need of investment.
“When Lossiemouth was named ahead of Buckie it surprise and disappointed people in Buckie – but we understood that perhaps Lossiemouth was in an even poorer state. And yet it is not listed in this report, begging the question now why Lossiemouth over Buckie?”
One of the parents who campaigned against the proposed closure of Milne’s High School in 2014 added: “Here we go again – this administration has a habit of not letting go, they simply refuse to accept that their thinking might just be wrong.
“Clearly, there is a problem in meeting the funding required to bring our schools up to standard – so the first thought of our leaders is to promote the idea of closing some schools to help pay for improvements or replacement of others.
“This is scaremongering early in the discussion – if they really want an open and honest discussion, they should present the facts and only the facts, then we can all try and work through them together without the sensational newspaper headlines.”