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Council accused of dirty tricks in Stracathro school closure consultation

Stracathro Primary.
Stracathro Primary.

Angus Council has been forced to defend claims it has downgraded a survey report on a primary school earmarked for closure.

Stracathro parent council said documents showed internal gradings in suitability assessments conducted by the council differed from those reported in a closure proposal document.

Vice-chairwoman Lee Ann Waddell said these inconsistencies have rendered the entire consultation process flawed and has urged the Scottish Government to call-in the proposal.

A consultation is under way on the first steps in the 30-year Angus schools programme which proposes shutting Stracathro, empty Tarfside and the already mothballed Lethnot school and sending pupils to an enhanced Edzell Primary.

Lee Ann said: “It is condescending of Angus Council to continually play down the seriousness of the situation.

“This is not a ‘thought gathering exercise’ as the attendees at the recent drop-in session were informed.

“We are knee-deep in the statutory consultation period for the proposed closure of Stracathro School.

“The council are trying to claim that this internal survey is irrelevant to the final document, yet they published it as being so within the proposal and they can provide no other evidence of where they obtained the figures to populate the government table.

“These consultation processes are expected to be robust, open, transparent and fair, and seen to be so.

“Statutory consultees and elected council members are entitled to rely on the Stracathro suitability score and the methods of its calculation when considering the proposal, therefore council officers appear to have resorted to underhanded tactics to discredit an outstanding school because it suits their own agenda to close it.”

Angus Council listed the school as an overall grade C for suitability in the proposal papers.

The suitability rating has been used as a key reason for the closure of Stracathro Primary, with Angus Council stating an ambition for all their schools to be rated A or B for both suitability and condition.

But campaigners believe this grade does not correlate with the inspection report released to them by Angus Council under freedom of information, with two key sections under the ‘evironmental conditions’ section of the internal report changing from A to B and A to C in the published report.

These changes result in the overall suitability grading of the school altering from a C to a B.

The internal papers also carry a different grading for the same section of Edzell Primary from those published – with the school this time seeing a C grading upscaled to an A for environmental conditions.

Angus Council said the purpose of the two suitability documents was different and the criteria and questions contained within each document stand alone.

Angus North and Mearns SNP MSP Mairi Gougeon said: “These claims are very concerning and merit further explanation from Angus Council over how internal gradings for these schools differ from those published in their consultation documents.

“Under the Schools Consultation (Scotland) Act, councils must conduct all school closure consultations in an open and transparent manner.

“It may well be the case that Angus Council has a justifiable explanation over why information they hold differs from what they have published in the proposal document.

“However, if this is not the case then I feel there would be merit in the Scottish Government scrutinising this further to ensure that any proposal is based entirely on accurate information.”

An Angus Council spokeswoman said: “Angus Council has an ambitious plan for our children and young people.

“We want schools that are great places to learn and well-used community spaces.

“To plan our schools for the future we have assessed each of our schools to find out if we have the right buildings in the right places to deliver the best learning environment for our young people.

“Our assessment documents for each school along with detailed information on how data was compiled were uploaded to our website in February.

“It is important to note that the purpose of the two suitability documents is different and the criteria and questions contained within each document are stand alone.

“There is a ‘weighted’ suitability tool provided by Scottish Government (5a in our consultation document).

“Angus Council developed an additional suitability assessment ‘Educational Aspirations for the Future’ (Appendix 5b in our consultation document) based on the standards agreed in our School Investment Strategy.

“These assessments are ‘unweighted’ and is an internal guide to assess our estate against our overall aspirations.

“Direct comparisons between the two documents should therefore not be made.

“It is important to note that both of these documents are contained within the consultation document and are in the public domain.

“This is part of our continued commitment to openness and transparency.

“To minimise the disruption to schools we agreed to look at any issues impacting neighbouring schools, where relevant.

“Lethnot and Tarfside Primary Schools currently have no pupils and Edzell needs to be expanded, it therefore made strategic sense to consider the impact proposed changes to these schools might have on Stracathro.”

Angus Council has previously seen a school closure proposal rejected by the Scottish Government on the basis of ‘apparent inaccuracies’ in surveyor reports.

In 2012, a controversial proposal to merge Arbroath’s Muirfield and Timmergreens was rejected by Scottish Government Ministers after determined the council had changed grades on condition reports for both schools from the original surveyor report to the one published in their closure proposal.

In their letter to the council in 2012, they stated: “Ministers are of the view that the consultation has been flawed due to apparent inaccuracies at how the condition rating has been derived.”

 

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