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Stone wants Scottish education secretary to intervene over plans to mothball Dunbeath nursery

By Gordon Calder

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SCOTTISH education secretary, Jenny Gilruth, has been urged to intervene over plans by Highland Council to mothball the Dunbeath nursery.

Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP, Jamie Stone, has written to Ms Gilruth and asked her to give the issue her "urgent attention."

The north MP claims parents have been "denied a voice" on the controversial matter and has accused the local authority of attempting to close the Dunbeath Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) centre by stealth. Under the proposal the youngsters would be relocated to the nursery in Lybster but that would involve additional travelling of 160 miles a week, according to parents.

Mr Stone claimed the local parent council and Dunbeath school, which houses the nursery, were not given enough time to "scrutinise the proposals fully." He pointed out they were informed about the mothballing plan on June 2 but stressed the council agreed the plan four months earlier. The local community was told the nursery would close on June 30 with "no re-opening date provided, despite there being four children enrolled from August 2023."

Two more youngsters are eligible to join in the new year and parents feel there is "a strong case" to keep the nursery open.

Jamie Stone wants Scottish education secretary to intervene over plans to mothball Dunbeath nursery.
Jamie Stone wants Scottish education secretary to intervene over plans to mothball Dunbeath nursery.

The Liberal Democrat MP said Scottish Government guidance states that mothballing may take place "where the roll or potential roll is very low and the authority considers the only other option to be closure."

However, if some children and young people remain in the catchment area, the decision should be taken in consultation with the parents involved, and raised as early as possible, "to ensure that families can understand the options open to them."

The parent council and the Berriedale and Dunbeath Community Council object to the mothballing while a petition has also been launched to try and get the decision reversed.

In his letter, Mr Stone, said: "The community disagrees with Highland Council, who have asserted that the mothballing is necessary due to ‘the few children enrolled and eligible to attend the setting from catchment for the 2023/24 session’ and that ‘moving these children to Lybster Nursery will increase peer relationships, build confidence, independence and resilience.’ The community is clear that historic small classes in Dunbeath have not led to negative outcomes with children’s confidence, independence or resilience. The parents of the four children enrolled to start nursery in August 2023 want to send their children to Dunbeath. These parents, The Parent Council, and the community have all been denied a voice by Highland Council’s abuse of the mothballing process."

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

Mr Stone added: "I’m sure you will share my concerns that the Highland Council appear in this situation to be attempting a closure – by stealth. I ask for your officials to intervene and remind the local authority of their obligations to the people of Dunbeath ... and negotiate the best outcome for the young children."

Highland Council has said the decision will be reviewed next spring once the enrolment figures are known but pointed out the local authority does not have a statutory obligation to deliver nursery provision.

As reported last week, a spokeswoman said the Lybster ELC 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.

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