Support independent journalism - become a member

School mothballing halted: reflecting on victory of local campaigners

United community action has successfully halted Council plans to mothball Dalry Secondary School without consultation. Communities across the Glenkens are continuing to work together for the future of Glenkens education.

Parents and children from Dalry School outside the council offices in Dumfries. Credit: Galloway News.

Campaigners had regarded the imposition of mothballing as ‘closure by stealth’. Now Glenkens councillors Dougie Campbell and Andy McFarlane have successfully persuaded Dumfries & Galloway councillors to adopt their motion, halting secondary school mothballing across the region until communities are properly consulted and all options considered.

The reprieve has been achieved thanks to tireless work by many people and groups across the community and beyond, working together with a united goal. 

Meanwhile, other local groups are continuing to look at Glenkens education in its broader form. 

Glenkens & District Trust (GDT) have recently stated that: “We are acutely aware of the importance of education provision to the sustainability of the area and the current issues relating to the potential mothballing of Dalry secondary school. 

We are also aware that this is an issue that is impacting various other rural areas across Scotland. In our role to support Glenkens community development, we will be commissioning a piece of work to enable a better understanding of how other communities affected by this issue are approaching it, to share learning and experience. 

This study will provide information and tools that will support the Glenkens communities in their goal to find a locally specific way forward that meets the needs and aspirations of local families and our young people.”

The Glenkens Community Action Plan Steering Group (CAPSG) sees the provision of education as an important underpin to the goal set out in the Community Action Plan and  is considering whether the creation of a Glenkens Education Forum to develop ideas and potential solutions for the short, medium and long term, is appropriate. They said: “For example, this group could work together to develop a ‘model for education and learning in the Glenkens’. This would cover pre-school, primary school, high school, wrap-around clubs, post-school learning, further education and lifelong learning and consider the pipeline of industry in the area.  The work proposed by GDT will support this.”

Sarah Ade, member of the parent council as well as the CAPSG, said: “The communities of the Glenkens are keen to work with D&G education department to find a solution. But we need to be listened to, and our views respected, which is not happening at present. We see the move towards amalgamated learning centres such as Dumfries Learning Town. We see the challenges of an ageing schools estate. And we aren’t saying ‘don’t change anything’ – we are saying the opposite in fact; we desperately need change to Dalry Secondary school as the current management arrangement is killing the school.

“We are saying that higher education within our Glenkens communities is vital, and that the department in charge of our schools – the Directorate for Education, Skills and Community Wellbeing – needs to take into account our communities’ wellbeing. We have active and engaged local business willing to support education. We have numerous windfarms in development over the coming years. We have enthusiastic and articulate community organisations. And we want to work together to create a plan for Glenkens education that benefits everyone into the future.”

Working together for the future of Glenkens education

Dalry minibus outside Castle Douglas High School. Picture by contracted freelancer Jim McEwan.

Over the past few months communities across the Glenkens have been galvanised into action as a result of the proposed recommendation by D&G Education Department to mothball Dalry Secondary.

The term ’stronger together’ certainly rings true here as local community councils, Dalry School parent council, local businesses and community groups such as the Glenkens Community Action Plan Steering Group (CAPSG) have engaged with elected members, Scottish Government, D&G Council and press in a bid to have the Glenkens’ communities voices heard. Finlay Carson MSP has also raised the issue in the Scottish Parliament and written to the Cabinet Secretary. 

Through the intervention of Glenkens Ward Councillor Dougie Campbell, along with scrutiny from Scottish Government, it was discovered that Dumfries & Galloway Council  actually has no policy in place for mothballing secondary schools, despite the move by the Education Department to push for this to happen at Dalry Secondary. 

National and local press coverage in publications such as the Herald, Daily Record, Galloway News and the Glenkens Gazette, as well as on other news platforms such as Border TV, Radio Scotland and DG What’s Going On Facebook page have ensured that the situation has a spotlight on it.

Glenkens Ward Councillor Dougie Campbell, with the support of fellow Glenkens Ward councillor Andy McFarlane, put a motion before the next Dumfries & Galloway Council meeting on 28 March asking for a halt to mothballing of secondary schools across the region until a robust policy, which includes rigorous and thoughtful community consultation and assessment of the socio-economic implications, has been put in place. This bid was successful as this edition of the Gazette went to press.

Dalry parent council is working hard to get the message out there that the Dalry Secondary needs to be seen in its unique context; with its large remote rural catchment including portions of single track roads with elevations over 1,000 feet (resulting in harsh and often unpredictable winter conditions), its situation is more similar to island schools than any mainland school. “Glenkens education cannot be fitted into a prescribed model, and some thinking outside of the box needs to be done with consideration of particular nature of our area. Our children and our communities need to be supported, not sidelined,” said Emily Wall of the parent council.

To illustrate the situation faced by the pupils, Dalry School’s parent council arranged a bus ride for councillors and press along the route that Glenkens children would have to travel to get to high school, which was well attended and featured on ITV Border on 22 March. The journey was a three-hour round-trip, and parent council members reminded those on the bus that this journey would need to be taken five days a week for up to six years of a child’s life if they had to travel to Castle Douglas High School from S1.

The parent council is also speaking with other small secondary schools across Scotland to find out how they manage with numbers similar to those at Dalry. All the schools approached to date run successful all-through models, which is what parents and future parents are asking D&G Education Department to do in the Glenkens.