Discussions around Strachan School’s future came to a stalemate last week, as officials and the community failed to find common ground.
The stage was a packed room in Strachan Village Hall, as part of the Feughdee West Community Council meeting, where in attendance were about 30 members of the community, education officials, Councillor Jill Webster, and MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Stuart Donaldson.
A letter was sent to Maria Walker, Director of Education, inviting her to the meeting, but she was on annual leave.
Sam Wilde, Chair of the Strachan Hall Committee, gave a run down on the school’s deterioration, from being a two teacher, one headmaster school, to being a one teacher school, and the roll falling from 36 to two as a direct result of this, and the Council’s subsequent decision to mothball it.
Of Aberdeenshire Council, Wylde said: “They knew there were problems, and the education officials just sat back and allowed it to happen.”
Members of the public asked questions about why the number of children being removed from the school didn’t cause the local authority to take action to address the causes behind falling numbers.
Andy Griffiths, Head of Primary Education and Educational Development, and acting in place of Walker, said that he could not comment on specifics relating to staff, nor specific families who took their children out of the school.
Speaking generally, he said: “Parents who move into a town or village have the right to ask for their children to be educated in other schools so long as there’s capacity in the schools they choose - that is their legal entitlement.
“When parents take that decision, they can explain why to the council if they want to, but they do not have to.”
Mr Griffiths added that if more parents came to the council and said that they wanted their children to go to Strachan School, taking it out of mothballs would be considered.
Frequently, he was asked by the attending public how many pupils wanting to come back to the school it would take for it to be taken out of mothballs, but he was unable to give an exact figure.
Griffiths finished by saying that the Director of Education was keen to have a proper meeting with parents and the community on her return from annual leave.
Cllr Jill Webster said: “I’m pleased that the Director of Education is organising a meeting for the parents and the community, and I’m also pleased officers from the Education Authority attended. It shows that they’re taking this really seriously. Now we need to look at encouraging people to come back to the school.”
MP Stuart Donaldson commented: “It was good that parents were able to express some of their concerns to council officials at the community council meeting, but I look forward to the proposed open meeting between parents and the Director of Education so that parental concerns can be addressed in full.”
Speaking after the meeting, Wylde expressed dissapointment at the lack of clarity in answers from the officicals, and the percieved lack of concern for the two families still wanting to keep their children at the school.
Before leaving, council officials were presented with a 71-signature petition oppossing the “sudden mothballing” of the school.
All present were handed a printout of the results of a parent council survey conducted in July - 75 percent of parents responded, and 63 percent of these said they would return their children to Strachan School if it had two teachers.