North Ayrshire Council’s Cabinet member for Education, Cllr Tony Gurney, has repeated his promise to consult the public on whether or not four local schools should close.
Cllr Gurney originally gave the commitment in response to a question tabled by Ardrossan’s Independent councillor, John Hunter, at the November 7th meeting of the full Council. Cllr Hunter had asked if the local authority would comply with all provisions contained in the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010, which stipulates that consultation must include asking the public’s view on whether or not schools should be closed and merged. Previously, Council statements had given the impression that consultation would be limited to the location of a new Three Towns campus and what the school should look like.
The SNP administration of North Ayrshire Council has secured £22.5m in funding from the Scottish Government towards a projected total cost of £42.5m to create a new campus somewhere in the Three Towns. It is proposed that the facility would accommodate secondary pupils from Ardrossan Academy and Stevenston’s Auchenharvie Academy, alongside separate provision for children with special needs who currently attend James McFarlane School in Ardrossan and Haysholm School in Irvine. The four existing schools would be closed to allow the merger to go ahead.
Last Thursday (November 22) saw the first of a planned series of workshops for councillors whose constituents will be affected by the closure and merger proposals. the3towns understands a number of possible locations for a Three Towns campus were discussed at the meeting, with some being discarded as unsuitable.
Speaking after the workshop, Cllr Gurney said, “We are considering a number of sites, which we will shortlist before reaching a preferred option to take to full public consultation.”
The Cabinet member for Education, who is also the SNP councillor for Ardrossan, added that the meeting had been “just one part of the process of listening to people’s views so that we can provide the best-possible school campus for our young people.”
Making clear his position on the issues of school closures and merger, Cllr Gurney said, “Once again, I want to stress that there will be full consultation to seek the views of all parents, families and communities. No decisions will be made – particularly on where the campus will be sited – until those consultations are complete.”
the3towns last week reported how one senior Council official, Mr Mark Armstrong of the Education department, appeared to be pressing-ahead with plans that would require the closure of Ardrossan Academy, Auchenharvie Academy, James McFarlane School and Haysholm School despite Cllr Gurney’s earlier commitment to consult on the issue. However, a spokesperson for the Council this week backed Tony Gurney, saying, “Parents, families and residents will be able to have their say on all aspects of the project, including design, closures and mergers during the extensive public consultation period expected to start early in the New year.”
Following last Thursday’s meeting and Cllr Gurney’s reiteration of his commitment to consult the public, Independent councillor John Hunter told the3towns, “I would have been much happier if consultation had been carried out prior to looking at possible site locations, but I accept that the Council requires to submit a fully-formed proposal to the Scottish Government and that it has to include a preferred site.”
Cllr Hunter indicated he is “happy that the consultation exercise will include closure and merger, not just site location,” adding, “Councillor Gurney said at the last Council meeting that full consultation would be carried out and I’m happy that this is now going to be the case.”
A spokesperson for the Council said, “Staff and parents from all four schools and the associated primary schools have been kept advised of the proposals since the successful funding bid was approved in September. Initial information and feedback sessions have taken place with parent councils, with further regular meetings planned.”