Highly-controversial plans to merge Ardrossan Academy and Auchenharvie Academy took a major step forward today (September 26) with the announcement that the SNP Scottish Government is to provide North Ayrshire Council with £22.5m towards the £42m cost of the project.
the3towns revealed in June that the local Council’s new SNP administration planned to merge the Ardrossan and Stevenston secondary schools into one ‘Three Towns’ campus, which would also be the new home to pupils from two special needs facilities – Adrossan’s James McFarlane School and Haysholm School in Irvine.
At the time, a Council statement said no location for the new campus would be decided until Scottish Government funding had been confirmed – which it now has – and until all stakeholders had been consulted regarding the plans. However, a timescale of the new campus being operational by August 2016 was also set-out in a Council report.
Reacting to the news that the Scottish Government would provide £22.5m to allow the merged campus plan to go ahead, Cllr Tony Gurney, SNP Cabinet member for Education, said “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a state-of-the-art new school.”
Mr Gurney added, “The opportunity to invest more than £40m in our young people is too important to pass up.
“Securing this funding is a major step in the proposal to develop a modern campus that will provide the best possible facilities in a modern learning environment.”
Now that the offer of Government funding has been confirmed, Tony Gurney said the Council will “speak to parents, pupils, staff and the wider school communities to listen to their views on this ambitious campus project before any decisions are made,” adding, “We want to make sure that the campus caters for the needs of the community and listening to people is the best way to ensure this happens. There will be extensive consultation and plenty of opportunities for people to be involved.”
Of plans to include pupils from James McFarlane and Haysholm in the new campus, Cllr Gurney said a purpose-built facility for children with complex needs would include access to health and care support for the youngsters and their families.
Mr Gurney, who represents the Ardrossan & Arran Ward on North Ayrshire Council, reiterated his belief that the proposed mergers represent “an exciting project and a unique opportunity to access funding for a modern and inclusive schools campus [that will] create a real hub for the community as well as a learning environment designed to meet the aspirations of our young people as they grow up in a rapidly changing world.”
However, many local residents fear the creation of a Three Towns campus could result in the demise of Ardrossan Academy, which has a history dating back to 1882. The idea of one ‘super-school’ for all non-denominational secondary pupils in the Three Towns area is also likely to see opposition on the grounds of educational attainment and the practicalities of pupils making their way from Ardrossan to Stevenston or vice versa.
Following the controversial merger of St Andrew’s Academy in Saltcoats and St Michael’s Academy of Kilwinning into the St Matthew’s Academy campus, pupils’ overall exam pass-marks fell significantly.
Although there is speculation that the most likely site for a new merged campus would be Council-owned land at Auchenharvie – with the Ardrossan Academy site sold-off for development – a Council insider told the3towns, “That decision has not been taken and there is as much chance of the new school being in Ardrossan as there is of it being at Auchenharvie. No decision will be taken about the location until parents, pupils and staff have been fully consulted.”
Parents of pupils at Ardrossan Aacdemy have previously told the3towns that consultation should not be limited to where a new school is located, but should also include “whether or not the schools should be merged at all”.