The Hutton School Saga
is not entirely forgotten by the media: this is the text of an article from the Scotsman of 21 August
THE action group campaigning to save a Berwickshire primary school is raising funds to pay for a legal challenge in case Borders councillors vote in favour of closure when the final decision is taken this autumn. Parents in the Hutton area warn they will seek a judicial review if their village school is shut because they say such a move would run counter to European directives on opportunities for parental choice. Following a well-attended rally, where protesters had the opportunity to air their views on Scottish Borders Council’s proposals to close the 13-pupil school, members of the action group vowed to fight to the end, even though the education authority seemed "hell-bent" on closure. The campaign also has the support of John Home Robertson, the Labour MSP for East Lothian, who lives at Paxton and whose children were pupils at Hutton PS. He has already gifted land for a playground at the school, and said yesterday he was prepared to do the same again if additional ground was required. Mr Home Robertson told The Scotsman: "I feel very strongly that village schools should be retained. In this case, Borders Council has failed to carry out the recommendations of school inspectors to upgrade the building." According to some parents, the threat of closure has blighted the school, and a number of local families have already decided to have their children educated in Berwick-on-Tweed or at other primaries in the Borders. Sandra Davie, the Hutton playgroup leader and a parent, said: "We cannot understand the stance the council is taking, and they have offered no explanation as to why the school must close. I tried to give numbers of playgroup children who would be attending Hutton in future years, but I don’t think they believed me." Aileen Orr, who chairs the action group, claimed: "Our children are being treated as numbers on a balance sheet. Their needs are not being taken into account. The push is on to close the school and to hell with everyone else’s feelings." Mrs Orr said her group would engage a QC if necessary to prepare the legal challenge, adding that if the school could not be saved then Hutton would be on a downward spiral. Parents Helen and Steve Richards said they could not believe councillors were even considering closure. Mr Richards commented: "We made detailed inquiries about moving to Hutton as my wife had been brought up in the village and wanted to return. We have young children and checked out all of the pros and cons. "When we were told by a council official the area was crying out for young couples, and that we would be welcomed, we assumed the school would be secure. That was a major factor in our decision to move to Hutton." Earlier this year, single teacher schools in Berwickshire and Roxburghshire were closed after councillors were told of falling rolls and high maintenance costs. But following protests from communities where other small schools had been targeted for closure, the local authority decided on a stay of execution. A council source said: "So far as Hutton is concerned, there have been no further discussions and the matter will be dealt with at a council meeting in October."
This lead to an exchange of letters:
The parents of pupils at Hutton Primary School have every reason to be optimistic about their prospects of success in a legal challenge against Borders Council (your report, 21 August). Based on the council’s now abandoned policy of charging for "privilege places" on school buses (your report, 19 August), its grasp of education law seems somewhat shaky. Section 51 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 requires that such places are offered to pupils free of charge. (Iain Nisbet, Glascow)
I am afraid Iain Nisbet’s grasp of the law (Letters, 24 August) is outdated, unlike that of Scottish Borders Council. The Local Government Act Scotland 2003 gave local authorities the right to charge for privilege lifts. Our statutory consultations have also met all of the legal requirements and the council has gone beyond its statutory requirements to give communities the opportunity to fully participate in the process. Most schools and communities (unlike Hutton
) have engaged with the council to debate the issues, which was perhaps the reason why Eccles-Leitholm campaigners saved their school. (CLLR) R DUMBLE Scottish Borders Council Newtown St Boswells Melrose.
This is a rather ominous comment by a Borders Councillor picking on Hutton as a body which has not engaged with the Council, and who will obviously not be voting in October to keep the school open and I wonder (with great respect to Save the School Action Group) if they have been altogether wise in their tactics of rubbishing the Borders Educational authorities and conducting megaphone diplomacy. Of course the final decision to close the school will rest with the Scottish Executive but I would be surprised if they overruled a Borders Council decision to shut Hutton down. Especially as the school roll is down to 12 .