An Ardrossan councillor has spoken of his concerns regarding plans to merge Ardrossan Academy with Auchenharvie Academy, and special needs schools James McFarlane and Haysholm to create a super-campus somewhere in the Three Towns.
In a letter to the3towns, Independent John Hunter set-out his position as North Ayrshire Council’s SNP administration confirmed it would seek funding from the Scottish Government to allow the proposed mergers to go ahead. Following a meeting of the Council’s ruling Cabinet last Tuesday (June 19), Education portfolio-holder Tony Gurney said, “This is a very positive step for North Ayrshire with the ultimate aim of providing the best educational facilities for all pupils.”
Cllr Gurney, who represents Ardrossan & Arran, added, “If the bid for funding is successful there will be lots of opportunities for pupils, parents, staff and the wider school community to be involved in the development of the campus – including identifying a suitable site.”
However, as the3towns revealed last week, the front-runner for the location of the new ‘super-school’ is Council-owned land adjacent to the current Auchenharvie Academy in Stevenston.
Reacting to the news, John Hunter said, “My feeling...based on my experience from six years ago, [is] this seemed to be something of a fait accompli. In that instance, funding was not going to be an issue since the then Labour Scottish Government had more or less forced local authorities to take on iniquitous PPP contracts. That proposal was the merger of St Michael’s and St Andrew’s Academies and to build a ‘super school’ on Laighdykes playing fields.”
Cllr Hunter continued, “I am not aware in this case of extensive consultations with relevant stakeholders on the principle of merger, let alone an overwhelming support for a merger. If such exists, then why aren’t all elected members party to it, and surely they would have been at least informed of the outcome of any consultations?”
Reflecting on the new SNP administration’s decision to proceed with a schools merger plan within weeks of the Council Election, John Hunter noted, “I find it difficult to believe that this proposal sprung fully-formed from the Education Department since the last election just seven weeks ago. That means either the SNP knew of this plan and said nothing in their manifesto, or they didn’t know, which leads me to conclude that the previous Labour administration must have known and they failed to mention it in their manifesto. One wonders why: surely it couldn’t be an awareness in either case that it might not go down too well in Ardrossan in particular?”
In 2008 Cllr Hunter tabled a question to the then Labour Education portfolio-holder, Cllr John Bell, which asked if there were any plans to merge Ardrossan Academy and Auchenharvie Academy. Cllr Bell’s response was, “No, not at this time.”
Regarding the current proposal, John Hunter said, “I will keep an open mind. I owe that much to the people of Ardrossan, but until or unless I get a clear, unambiguous and overwhelming message of support for this proposal from the people of Ardrossan, I will not blindly support the administration in this matter.”
As the3towns revealed last week, the SNP administration of North Ayrshire Council is hoping to attract maximum Scottish Government financial support for their schools merger project – two-thirds of revenue costs for the full campus – which would see the local authority receive £28.475m towards a total cost of £42.4m: North Ayrshire’s contribution would be the balance - £14.025m.
The timetable for the development of the new campus would be dependent on the implementation of Government support, but the Council anticipates a probable building programme spanning two years, which would mean the new facility could be ready for occupation in time for the start of the school session in August 2016.
Ardrossan Academy pupil Rebecca Wallace and Auchenharvie Academy’s Luisa Kolodziej, both fifth-year students, attended last Tuesday’s SNP Cabinet meeting, which approved the funding bid that could see their schools merged. Education spokesman Tony Gurney said, “We want to ensure that the views of students are represented throughout this process.”