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'Our Children Deserve Better': Highland Council under fire for Culloden Academy school expansion delays

By Alasdair Fraser

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Catherine Bunn of Culloden Community Council outside Culloden Academy...Picture: Callum Mackay..
Catherine Bunn of Culloden Community Council outside Culloden Academy...Picture: Callum Mackay..

Highland Council is “insulting pupils” and seriously undermining educational attainment by dragging its heels on expanding an overcrowded Inverness school, it has been claimed.

The £7.5 million extension project for Culloden Academy – currently 15 per cent above pupil capacity – was approved in May 2018 and earmarked for completion by August 2023.

But worried parents and community leaders fear current inaction threatens to delay the project’s realisation until 2025.

Projections suggest the 1059-pupil school, already “bursting at the seams”, could be at least 36 per cent over capacity by August 2023, with worse to follow thanks to new housing developments in the pipeline.

One councillor says he understands the school will be unable to cope without portable classrooms by 2022.

Council officials have advised parents that temporary buildings will be used to ease pressure of numbers, but have offered no explanation for delays in moving ahead with the project, which has already secured funding.

Catherine Bunn, chairwoman of Culloden Community Council, has written to Highland Council chief executive Donna Manson to demand answers.

The letter – copied to MP Drew Hendry, MSP Fergus Ewing and a host of councillors – states: “Parents have been waiting for over two years for actual progress on a project that keeps being delayed and ‘updated’.

“It is an insult and is seriously undermining the educational prospects of the children in the Culloden catchment area.

“Young people deserve to be treated with more respect and their education actually given some serious prioritisation by Highland Council.”

Speaking to the Courier yesterday, Mrs Bunn stressed: “Children desperately need the facilities, they need the space, rather than being crammed on top of each other.

“Children with additional learning needs, in particular, are stressing out. It is overloaded, squashed – everywhere from classrooms to changing facilities.

“I don’t think the council is prioritising these children, they just keep bumping them along the list.

“It is almost like they have done nothing for 12 months and that’s just not acceptable when the school is so overcrowded.

“The school itself has been asking for help, trying to get things moving. We don’t even know the date when the first spade will be in the ground.”

Catherine Bunn of Culloden Community Council outside Culloden Academy...Picture: Callum Mackay..
Catherine Bunn of Culloden Community Council outside Culloden Academy...Picture: Callum Mackay..

The community council letter says parents are “extremely disappointed” at a lack of information and action.

It states: “Culloden Academy has been operating well above the intended maximum capacity and this is set to rise by another 200 to 300 pupils with the (housing) developments at Stratton and Balloch.

“There are also suggestions that the council is now seriously considering the use of temporary buildings, where before there was an aim to avoid modular classrooms.

“What is not clear is how many temporary structures are to be used in the short-term, and if these come out of the capital budget?

“Parents would like a guarantee that this will not push the permanent development back.”

There is also concern that new schools to be built at Nairn and Broadford will stretch council design teams and cause further delays.

Inverness South councillor Ken Gowans said: “I share concerns about the delay. It is not going to happen now until at least 2023 or 2024. We’re seeking urgent clarity on that.

“Portakabin accommodation is a sticking plaster, but may be the best we can do under the circumstances.

“It is acknowledged that by 2022 the school will simply not be able to cope without temporary classrooms.

“That will represent a lack of planning, not from the headteacher, but from officers within Highland Council who have failed to understand the very real pressures the school is under.”

Chairman of the council’s education committee, Councillor John Finlayson, said: “The issues relating to Culloden were discussed at the most recent Highland Council meeting on January 7 as part of the re-profiled Capital Plan.

“Assurances were given that engagement with the main stakeholders, including the Parent Council, would take place as soon as possible and updates about how plans would progress would also take place then.”

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