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Dunbeath nursery mothballing plan to be reviewed by Highland Council next spring

By Gordon Calder

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A DECISION to mothball the nursery at Dunbeath primary school will be reviewed next spring, according to Highland Council.

It stressed the appraisal will take place once the enrolment figures are known but pointed out the local authority does not have a statutory obligation to deliver nursery provision.

A Highland Council spokeswoman said: "Alternative nursery provision is available at another setting within the cluster, Lybster ELC, (Early Learning and Childcare) which has capacity to offer placements to eligible funded children and will include two-year-old provision from August 2023.

"Those affected by the mothballing of Dunbeath ELC have been supported by the local authority in accessing provision at this setting for the new session, including transport costs."

She added: "The decision to mothball Dunbeath ELC next session will be reviewed in Spring 2024 following enrolment for the following session in 2024/25. The council does not have a statutory obligation to provide nursery provision."

Caithness Sutherland and easter Ross MP, Jamie Stone, who fears the council could be "misusing the mothballing process to impose a closure by stealth," has written to the Scottish education secretary, Jenny Gilruth, on the issue.

Parents have vowed to fight the plan which they have described as "disgraceful". A petition has been launched to try and get the decision reversed.

Dunbeath nursery is in the local primary school
Dunbeath nursery is in the local primary school

As reported last week, Alexa MacAuslan, the secretary of the parent council, said the proposal came as "a huge surprise" and claimed no consultation was undertaken before the announcement was made. She said relocating the youngsters to the nursery in Lybster would involve an additional 160 miles of travelling each week. Mrs MacAuslan said the Dunbeath facility is "such an important part of the local community".

Ellie Sheales, who has enrolled her two-year-old son Ruaraidh in the Dunbeath Nursery from August, said: "It is disgraceful to deny rural children access to early years education based on where they live."

The parents point out that four children are enrolled in Dunbeath Nursery from August 2023, with a further two eligible to join in the new year and feel there is "a strong case to keep the nursery open."

The Berriedale and Dunbeath Community Council is also fighting the decision and held a public meeting to discuss the mothballing proposal.

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