A controversial plan to merge headships of island secondary schools, leaving the Isle of Harris with no head teacher based in the community, was roundly rejected by a special meeting of Western Isles councillors yesterday afternoon (Tuesday 26 January).
The exceptional meeting of the full Comhairle, called by Na Hearadh agus Ceann a Deas nan Loch (Harris and South Lochs) councillor John G Mitchell, debated a motion to roll out the plan for executive headships covering groups of schools in the Western Isles.
But Cllr Mitchell’s amendment, to exclude secondary schools from the proposal, received widespread support and was carried, in what SNP Cllr Mitchell described as ‘a win for common sense.’
The amendment means that an unpopular plan to place the Nicolson Institute, Sir E Scott and Leverhulme Memorial School under a single, Stornoway-based executive head has been rejected. There will be no further debate on that aspect of the proposal.
Councillor Mitchell said: “It’s nonsense that a community the size of Tarbert should have no head teacher, and that there should be a mountain and a 60-mile drive between the head teacher’s office and a school they have responsibility for in Leverburgh.
“My amendment to the proposal was non-political and my seconder was a member of the Uist and Barra independent group, Cllr Roddy Mackay.
“I had five minutes to propose the amendment and two minutes to sum up and Cllr Mackay also spoke. Most of the debate was very supportive and, of the 28 councillors who attended the meeting, the vote went our way by 21 votes to seven.”
Newly-elected councillor Grant Fulton, who stood in the Harris ward by-election in October on a platform which included resistance to the proposal, made what Cllr Mitchell described as ‘a useful and erudite speech’ in support of the amendment.
Cllr Fulton described yesterday’s vote as ‘a fantastic democratic decision’. He said yesterday: “Delighted to announce that we got enough votes from councillors from the Butt to Barra to halt the roll out of the executive head programme for the Nicolson Institute, Sir E Scott, and Leverhulme Memorial School.
“This recommendation would have meant we would have lost our vital head teachers. Head teachers are not only leaders of their schools but beacons in our communities.
“I was more than happy to strongly support this amendment and speak in council in support. There was also extensive assistance from members of the community of Harris and every community group. A fantastic democratic decision.”
Cllr Mitchell said: “Some of those who spoke against the amendment mentioned the risks of cuts to the education budget as a result.
“The measure would have saved £30,000 on an education budget of £48 million, and lost the goodwill of the population of Harris in the process. We won the day convincingly.”
Picture: Sir E Scott school in Tarbert.