Support independent journalism - become a member

Dumfries and Galloway: Are we facing a crisis in rural education?

Publication: The Glenkens Gazette

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Writing for the Glenkens Gazette, the Dalry School Parent Council claim the future of education in the Glenkens is in crisis following the withdrawal of the fourth-year provision at Dalry Secondary School.

Parents and supporters of the school believe the seeds of the current situation were sown in 2016 when, despite strong community and parental opposition, the Dumfries and Galloway Education Department decided to hire a Glenkens primaries partnership head and amalgamate the management for Dalry Secondary and Castle Douglas High School (CDHS), despite the fact that CDHS is an urban school 16 miles away.

The change in management structure from an all-through school (with the Glenkens primaries and Dalry Secondary all under one head teacher who was based at Dalry School) to a structure with a remote secondary head has had serious ramifications.

Seven years on, this poorly considered management decision, coupled with a seeming lack of interest in partnership working from the CDHS management team, has led to this year’s S4 class at Dalry being displaced and the head teacher ‘strongly advising’ parents to send their children to CDHS.

The size of year groups has changed little over the past few decades, so why are Dalry pupils’ educational outcomes being so severely curtailed? It does not seem right that, when parents query the limited offering, it is deemed a reasonable answer to state that a full range of subjects is offered at ‘partner school’ CDHS.

Surely it is not unreasonable to expect a rich and varied curriculum to be offered at Dalry, the catchment high school for the Glenkens? Why are pupils expected to attend an out-of-catchment school, outwith their community,  travelling for potentially up to two hours a day?

A child playing with a clock in the wall
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

These are the questions being asked of the Education Department, with many parents and community members still waiting for answers.

In response to a concern raised by a community member, the Education Department stated:

“…the headteacher and the Head of Education wrote to parents…to advise they commence their Senior Phase at their partner school, Castle Douglas High School.”

This statement clearly encourages parents to send their children away from Dalry, their catchment school. However, when the headteacher was asked why they don’t encourage children at the partner school, CDHS, who would benefit from smaller class sizes and a small-school environment, to send their children to Dalry – surely a win-win situation – he responded that the school could not make that kind of suggestion to parents; where they send their child is down to parental choice.

The senior management team has resisted attempts by the parent council to find a solution. There is the possibility of online learning, used successfully for small class sizes in other remote areas in Scotland and indeed employed by other schools in Dumfries & Galloway. If cost is a prohibitive factor, the parent council have offered to look at raising the necessary funds.

The options were reduced for this year’s S4 group to such a degree that there were no sciences, no geography and no languages (despite a full cohort of teachers in these subjects being available). Currently, the only offering for an S4 student wishing to stay is to sit in on S3 classes and to be ” largely self-motivated to self-study”.

And the attempts to degrade the offer at Dalry Secondary go beyond subject choices, with £ 1.25 million of capital investment spent on the Castle Douglas High School Estate since 2017 and nothing on the Dalry Secondary Estate.

In 2016, the local community and parents pushed for Dalry Secondary to run to S6 rather than S4, as they could see that running to S4 with the changes to exam years, etc, may become problematic. At the time D&G Education Department refused to consider this; ironically, now they advise parents that not running to S6 is a reason for children to move from Dalry to CDHS in order to avoid the transition to S4.

Children and parents are aware that upon commencing S5, a school transition is a requisite. This progression is, however, a more organic undertaking as numerous students at this point opt for higher-grade courses, and some take the decision to leave school altogether, rendering the process more holistic for older students.

Hands of children writing
Picture by Van Tay Media on Unsplash

The Glenkens is a rural area of around 500 square miles with a population of some 3,700. From the northern boundary, in the parish of Carsphairn, to the current school at Dalry is around 17 miles. To travel to school in Castle Douglas would be close to 35 miles or an hour’s drive.     

Dalry School sits in the heart of an area rich in renewable energy and forestry, which makes the lack of sciences all the more difficult to understand.

The parent council have engaged with local renewables companies like Vattenfall and Natural Power, who are keen to work with Dalry in order to provide educational opportunities in fields where they could gain local employment.

The renewable energy sector alone is growing by 7% annually, expanding demand for a local workforce in these fields. This demand will only grow with climate change at the forefront of the global agenda. D&G Education Department, however, has prioritised apprenticeships in Dumfries, forcing children and young people out of the area.

The Glenkens is in the unique regional position of having an increasing population. For this trend to continue and for the health and vitality of our communities, we need to ensure our schools can provide high-quality education here in the Glenkens.

Dee & Glenkens ward councillor Dougie Campbell, who has been working with the parent council, said: “Following the recent decision on S4 education provision in Dalry, I think we need to work together to think about what the model for education provision in the Glenkens should look like.

“We need innovative thinking by the Council’s Education Department, in consultation with the Glenkens community, on how we improve rural education and ensure our young people get equal access to the opportunities secondary pupils already have in Castle Douglas and Kirkcudbright. I’ll work with the parent council, fellow ward councillors and Education Committee members to ensure that education in the Glenkens is given the attention it is entitled to.”

Currently, there is a consultation on the restructuring of Dumfries & Galloway’s school estate. The communities of the Glenkens would like to ensure we retain education for our children within our community and ensure that our children are able to become qualified in the fields of employment that are right on our doorstep. We need management of our schools to be returned to the Glenkens. We need a head teacher who is present in our school and invested in the children of the Glenkens.

The communities of the Glenkens have a strong identity of which we are proud. We have chosen to live and work here for a reason. We chose small schools. We chose rural education. We opted for small class sizes. We want our children to be raised within our own community, forming a lifelong connection and a passion for the area that will ensure that, whatever their future choices, they keep coming back to the place they call home.

Look out for more local consultations coming soon, and have your say! You can also follow the Dalry School Parent Council on Facebook to keep up-to-date with what’s happening.