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Edward Mountain slams ‘dysfunctional’ education department after Charleston Academy visit

By Scott Maclennan

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Scottish Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Edward Mountain after visiting Charleston Academy. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Scottish Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Edward Mountain after visiting Charleston Academy. Picture: Callum Mackay.

Pressure is mounting on Highland Council as MSP Edward labels its education department as “dysfunctional.”

He was speaking after visiting Charleston Academy and declaring that he has never seen a worse school building.

It took him 18 months to get approval to enter the Inverness school and he was only allowed in after he raised it in Holyrood with education secretary Jenny Gilruth.

Mr Mountain was shocked by what he saw. He believes the state of Charleston will undoubtedly affect attainment – with the region still languishing at or near the bottom of league table – and education boss Nicky Grant is still on “approved leave.”

Parents have been campaigning for months for the council to do something about the building and their efforts grew more intense after the SNP-led administration ditched plans for 10 buildings last September.

Council bosses insist they still have plans to rebuild or thoroughly revamp the 10 buildings but admit that none of them are likely to be completed in the next half decade – though it claims plans for investment could be revealed in May.

But SNP and Independent councillors have repeatedly been accused of inaction after ensuring that a bid to declare a ‘school estate emergency’ in a bid to highlight the problem failed.

Ultimately, the MSP believes that shows a lack of investment in pupils’ futures in the Highlands – he said he and his colleagues would be more than happy to lobby for more money.

“It took nearly 18 months to get into the school because Highland Council refused to let me in,” he said. “Now, I don't know if that's because Nicky Grant is no longer working full time since I think she is on ‘approved leave’. I don't know what that means but no one would give me permission to come into school for about 18 months.

“I wanted to come into Charleston for the very simple reason that parents had contacted me about the appalling state of the school so I wanted to come here and see whether it was actually true.

“They sent me lots of pictures and I think they said there's pictures to the press and my concerns were that if that's the state of the school we needed to do something about it.

Ceilings are non-existent in some parts with exposed wiring and pipes.
Ceilings are non-existent in some parts with exposed wiring and pipes.

“What I saw was a really sad-looking school. In 2016 we were promised we were going to get a new school and then by 2019 that had been reduced to an extension and that's since been scrapped.

“I don't think any money has been invested in keeping the school, so consequently ongoing repairs have just drifted and nothing's really happened. If you go around that school now there isn't a single double glazed window unit that is actually working. They're all blown, they all need to be replaced.

So little refurbishment means extension leads are in place instead of wiring.
So little refurbishment means extension leads are in place instead of wiring.

“If you go into the science block you can actually feel how hot it is – and it's not a hot day today – and they have to have the blinds closed in summer and it becomes almost unworkable in winter. It is so cold that you have to come in with your coat on.

“If you go around the art department, which we had a look at today, I actually saw marks of where the water had cascaded out of the internal drains, the roof drains, which comes through the inside of the building, all over the walls and you can see leaks and damaged ceiling tiles wherever you go.

“But there's also quite a big waiting on the RAAC report to see how bad the concrete is.”

Brick work showing perhaps due to leaks.
Brick work showing perhaps due to leaks.

Asked if he had ever seen a school in that sort of condition before or anything like it, he said: “No. And, you know, the sadness is that we are investing in our children's future and we're not investing enough and you and everyone will know if you go into a school or any facilities as a child, if it's tiptop good shape, you're concentrating and get down to work quickly.

“If it's very poor conditions, you're struggling with the climate, you won't apply yourself to work and that means that you entertain everything you can and we need to get the standard of the building up to get the attainment of the pupils up.

Some parts appear to have years of accumulated filth.
Some parts appear to have years of accumulated filth.

“I want to be quite clear, I am amazed what the teachers do within these facilities to teach and I'm amazed that children achieve the grades they do but they could achieve more if the facilities were up to standard.”

Does he believe that there is a connection between the condition of the school and the 18 month delay in being permitted access to it?

He said: “I think there is a dysfunctional education department within Highland Council. I'm actually quite sad that they have not only stopped me but some of my colleagues visiting schools. If they really wanted to be open and honest, and get us to lobby on their behalf in the Scottish Parliament, they should let us in.

“When I get back today I'm going to write to the cabinet secretary for education and invite her to come up and look around the school and see whether she's happy.

“What I have found is that we have a director of education who is not in post, or is on leave and has been on leave for a long time. I don't know what kind of leave it is and why they're on leave.

“We've seen problems regarding pupils and an apology having to be given by the Highland Council for the way that a pupil was treated by teachers and that's completely unacceptable.

“If somebody was on top of their brief in the council, none of these matters would take that amount of time that it does take – 18 months to get into a school and we're looking at the report into the pupil taking about 12 months.

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