Council forced to serve up better offer after 'ridiculous' and 'unsafe' school run plan on Scottish island
Parents on a Scottish island are still calling for a safe and fully serviced school run to the mainland after the islet’s school closed during the Covid pandemic.
The only primary school on Luing, an Inner Hebridean island home to about 180 residents, was mothballed in 2020 when lockdown hit.
Seven of the eight pupils at the time graduated to high school on the mainland and the Argyll and Bute Council decided it could no longer justify keeping the island school open. There is a chance the premises will be closed permanently, island residents have said.
It means the primary school-aged children on Luing need to travel to the mainland for classes each day. But the school closure meant the island also lost its school bus service.
After months of back and forth between the council and members of Luing Community Council, which includes multiple parents, an arrangement was made for a council minibus to take the primary school children, of which there are currently two, as far as Luing’s ferry port.
The pupils would then be required to walk onto the vehicle ferry unsupervised to then catch a public bus on the mainland to the school gates – a 3.1-mile-long journey.
After an outcry from parents, the council has since changed its offer and supplied transport and a member of staff to accompany the pupils on the ferry. But rather than take them the extra few miles on the mainland to the school gates, the pupils are still required to catch the public bus.
With no chaperone on the public service, which is used by some 18 other children on the mainland, island parents have rejected the council’s latest proposal and continue to do the school run themselves.
Alison Young, a mother-of-three and who lives on Luing, said the “compromise” was still putting children at risk.
"I don’t understand how they think primary aged children, which can be as young as four-and-a-half, are in a position to get themselves onto a public bus without a chaperone,” the 32-year-old said. "It’s ridiculous and unsafe.
"There is an expectation the driver is the one supervising the kids, but that’s a lot of children. And anyone can get on this public bus. It may have been fine a few years ago, but not in this day and age. It makes us all very nervous.
"As parents, you don’t feel like you should have to be fighting for a safe school run to be provided. They will have some money left from mothballing the school and removing the bus service, so I don’t see why they can’t just keep the service.”
Members of the community council have said there should be some £21,000 in the council budget for Luing’s school travel arrangements. Another proposal was for the island community to find a volunteer to supervise the children door-to-door.
But parents have worked out this would require someone having to work about 25 hours of unpaid work and have them travel between the island and mainland every day for five days a week.
With school having already returned on August 15, families have continued to do the school run themselves, which has been the case since classes restarted after lockdown due to parents feeling unsatisfied with the council’s solutions to date.
Ms Young said what would normally take her about 15 minutes is now about an hour-and-a-half round trip for one school run. And that’s if you don’t miss your return ferry.
She added: “The service we’re asking for might only be for two families at the moment, but next year there will be four kids who will be primary aged, and a couple of years after that there will be seven, and that’s excluding young families who might move here in years to come.”
Ms Young said the school bus debate on the island was only a small part of a bigger picture. Parents are still campaigning hard for Luing’s primary school to reopen.
They are calling for the council to keep it mothballed with a view to it being reopened several years rather than have it permanently closed.
Ms Young, who has a 15-year-old, a four-year-old and a six-month-old baby, said: “There are children on the island who in the next few years will be school age and will need a school nearby.”
Colin Buchanan, chairman of the Isle of Luing Community Trust, said while the school run situation had “marginally improved”, more conversations were needed with the council to reach a solution for families on the island.
"All last term the parents just took the children themselves because they felt the council’s solution was unsafe,” he said. "There are some parents who do the run to the mainland because of having pre-school children, but this isn’t every day.
"We might have another few children going to primary next year and so we really need to have something sorted by then.”
In his role with the community trust, Mr Buchanan said one of the group’s aims was to change the aging demographic and combat depopulation by encouraging families to the island. "We are trying to repopulate Luing, grow the economy and attract young families,” he said.
"A situation where we might have to say the school is closing permanently and parents don’t feel the current school transport situation is safe isn’t helping that.”
A spokeswoman from Argyll and Bute Council said there were plans in place for “a dedicated member of staff” to collect the two primary school aged children on Luing from home every day and travel with them on the short ferry crossing.
"This member of staff would accompany the children off the ferry at the other side and would wait with them to get another bus to school,” she said.
"A teacher would then collect the children from this bus on its arrival at Easdale Primary. The same would apply in reverse at the end of the school day. However, the parents of the children concerned have declined this offer.”
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