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Abronhill high school justification letters are a "joke"

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 19:29 GMT on Tuesday, July 16th, 2013.

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Picture: Scott Campbell/ Cumbernauld Media.

KEYBOARD warriors for the Save Abronhill High School have lambasted a letter from the Scottish Government which responds to complaints by campaigners that the Scottish Government failed to take relevant issues into consideration when deciding to conditional approve the merger between Abronhill and Cumbernauld high schools. 

Scottish Ministers announced on Friday, June 28th, 2013 that they were handing down approval of North Lanarkshire Council plans to amalgamate Abronhill High School with Cumbernauld High School, subject to a number of conditions. 

The conditions were that:

  • The Council shall request that Police Scotland undertake a safety assessment of all the proposed walking routes to Cumbernauld HS and to make a report of its findings publically available along with any recommendations. A copy of the report will be sent to North Lanarkshire Council and the Parent Councils of each of the schools affected by this proposal and the Scottish Ministers;
  • The Council shall, within 3 months of receipt of the Police report, and following discussion between the Police, Council, Parent Councils and Head Teachers, publish its response to the report setting out how it intends to implement the recommendations made. This shall include details of what work requires to be done and when this will be carried out. A copy of the Council's response will be sent to the Police and copied to the Parent Councils of all the schools affected and the Scottish Ministers;
  • All improvement works to be carried out as a consequence of the Police recommendations shall be complete before the first day of term of the new amalgamated school, i.e. start of academic year 2014/15. The Council shall provide the Parent Councils and the Scottish Ministers with regular progress reports on delivering the improvement work required; and,
  • The Council will undertake a full assessment of the safety and capacity of bus stances at Cumbernauld HS which are used by pupils for both boarding and alighting and make any necessary improvements to ensure the stances are capable of accommodating safely the increased numbers of pupils likely to be using them following the merger of the two schools. These improvements are to be in place for the start of the new school year in 2014.

On Friday, June 28th, 2013, the campaigners were left distraught at the decision to close Abronhill High School, although all vowed to battle on as far as they could to save the school; dubbed by the Scottish media as the ‘Gregory’s Girl school’. 

In a bid to make local opinion known, campaigners e-mailed the Scottish  Government to raise a number of concerns about the decision; concerns surrounding walking route safety, if and when a new school would be built, the safety of staff and students whilst a new school is under construction, the timing of the announcement, as well as concerns that the Scottish Government had bowed to legal threats by the local authority, when the Scottish Government called in the council’s proposals, in March.

This week, campaigners vying to save Abronhill High School from closure, said that they had received responses from the Government – but anger remained that responses were generic and avoided answering the concerns raised.

Two letters have been found on Facebook, one via the Save Abronhill High School campaign and a second by the Save Abronhill High School Working Group. Both letters were sent by the same civil servant, and are remarkably similar in their content and language.

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The letters read: “While I understand that the outcome is not the one that you were hoping for, it may help if I explain the role and function of Ministers in determining school closure proposals is prescribed in law under the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 (the 2010 Act).

“First, the circumstances in which Ministers may issue a call-in notice in relation to a school closure proposal are limited. They may only do so where it appears to them that an education authority may have failed-

“(a) in a significant regard to comply with the requirements imposed on it by or under the 2010 Act so far as they are relevant in relation to the closure proposal, or
(b) to take proper account of a material consideration relevant to its decision to implement the proposal.

“Having call-in in a school closure proposal for determination Ministers have to look at the totality of what has been considered by an education authority and their decision to grant or refuse consent to the proposal must be made objectively without any basis in political considerations or personal opinions. It is not, however, the role of Ministers to decide on the proposal afresh.”

Continuing, the letters say that the Scottish Government “…undertook detailed investigations which included discussions with Police Scotland and an analysis of police crime statistics for the area.”

The letter says that the investigations concluded, “…while there may be a perception that the preferred route between the schools is unsafe, this is not borne out by police statistics, which show the number of recorded incidents on this route is in line with the average for Cumbernauld as a whole, and reflect a year on year decrease in crime in the area.”

Campaigners, though, have described the letter as a “joke”, some calling it a “roll over”, “body swerve”, and a “total white wash”. 

The safety of pupils walking from Abronhill to Cumbernauld high school was one strand of the argument against a merger, with the Save Abronhill High School Working Group previously requesting, multiple times, that Police Scotland undertake a safety review of the paths – a request which Police Scotland officials, in Cumbernauld, and throughout Lanarkshire, refused, according to campaigners.

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