Ardrossan & Arran Independent councillor John Hunter has urged “all interested parties to participate fully in the consultation process” regarding controversial plans to merge Ardrossan Academy and Auchenharvie Academy.
As previously reported by the3towns, North Ayrshire Council has identified the current site of Ardrossan Academy as the preferred option for a new Three Towns campus, with pupils from Auchenharvie in Stevenston travelling to Ardrossan for their secondary education from August 2016 onwards. The proposed new campus would also house a facility for pupils with additional needs, bringing together children who currently attend Ardrossan’s James McFarlane School and Haysholm School in Irvine.
However, John Hunter this week voiced concern over the number of pupils who would attend the proposed merged secondary and the effect this would have on academic attainment, telling the3towns, “There are any number of studies which demonstrate that large schools perform less well than smaller schools.”
Cllr Hunter’s comments come in the week that SNP-controlled North Ayrshire Council published details of five public meetings at which the merger proposals will be discussed. The local authority’s Cabinet member for Education, Cllr Tony Gurney, stressed his belief that it is important for the Council to “speak to the whole community from the very start,” adding, “We do recognise there will be some change for pupils at the schools. It is important, therefore, that we speak directly to pupils, parents, staff and the wider public about the plans and ensure that we take their views onboard.”
But John Hunter has reservations over the Council’s impartiality in the matter, saying of the public consultation document, “I strongly recommend that all who are interested in this proposal read it very carefully. It is a fairly extensive document and it will come as no surprise to anyone that it is heavily biased towards acceptance of the proposal.”
Two-weeks ago the3towns revealed the question asked by the Council in its formal public consultation document contains a form of words previously rejected by the independent Electoral Commission, which considered them to be leading respondents towards a particular answer. The Commission’s decision related to the proposed wording of the question to be asked in next year’s Independence Referendum. Originally, the SNP Government had wanted to ask “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”, but following an established assessment process, the Electoral Commission found “the words ‘Do you agree’ potentially encourage people to vote ‘yes’.” As a consequence, the leading element of the question - ‘Do you agree’ – was dropped and Scots will now simply be asked “Should Scotland be an independent country?”.
However, the question asked by North Ayrshire Council in its public consultation document is: “Do you agree with the proposal to create a new educational campus in Ardrossan by amalgamating Auchenharvie and Ardrossan Academies and Haysholm and James McFarlane Schools?” Applying the Electoral Commission’s previous decision, such wording would appear to lead respondents towards accepting the merger proposal.
The planned Three Towns campus is projected to cost £42.5m, with North Ayrshire Council contributing £20m and the balance being supplied by the SNP Scottish Government.
Details of the five public meetings announced this week by the Council to discuss the merger proposals are:
May 7 - Haysholm School (7:00pm)
May 9 - Ardrossan Academy (6:30pm)
May 14 - Auchenharvie Academy (6:30pm)
May 15 - West Kilbride Primary School (6:30pm)
May 16 - James McFarlane School (10:30am)
Public submissions on the proposals must be received by North Ayrshire Council no later than mid-day on Friday, June 14.