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Keiss School Thrumster Nursery Action Group

Dunnet Play Group

Keiss Nursery Action Group

Public meeting Friday the 14th of October 2005 at 6pm In Keiss village hall

20 September 05
Keiss Nursery Action Group – Notice of Amended Meeting Time
Due to scheduling of events at the Keiss Village Hall, a new time has been set for the public meeting on the future of Keiss Nursery.  The meeting will now take place on:
Wednesday, 12 October 2005 at 6.00 pm.
All are welcome. Please come and make your views on the future of our nursery heard.

16 September 05
Meetings - Building The Case - Public Meeting 14 October
Early in Term 1 of 2005, three local Keiss mothers met with Bill Alexander, Head of Children, Young People and Families (Highland Council), Cllr Margaret Davidson, Cllr John Green and Mr Graham Nichols, Head of Education for Caithness. Also present was Lindsay Gunn of the Social Work Department’s Wick office.

At the meeting, which took place at Keiss Nursery, the following points were raised:

  • Nursery provision throughout the Highlands is coming under review. At present, there are in the vicinity of 70 more nurseries than primary school facilities in the Highland region. The Highland Council’s view is that the current number is economically unsustainable.

  • The village of Keiss needs to prove sustainability if the nursery facilities, attached to its school, are to be retained. In essence, that means providing long-term figures that support the need for a nursery in the village.

  • The need for after-school or wrap-around care may provide an additional service that the nursery can provide, thus supporting it’s long-term viability.

The mothers present raised the following points:

1. Keiss is situated some 7 to 8 miles from the nearest nurseries in Canisbay and Wick (North School). The round-trip of between 14 and 16 miles, twice a day, will bring economic hardships on families in terms of fuel price and provision of transport, along with practical difficulties in getting one child to a nursery in Wick or Canisbay whilst delivering older siblings to Keiss Primary School. Obviously, these practical issues will impact on decisions which parents are forced to make in terms of where their children are educated.

Whilst Cllr Davidson and Mr Alexander agreed with the practical difficulties which may arise for families, it was stressed that many other Highland families have to travel much further and make such decisions.

We would argue that, whilst some Highland families may be forced to travel long distances to get children to and from nursery, we see no reason why a well-attended, fully-functioning nursery in a growing community should be removed and parents be expected to bear these travel and time costs. Keiss Nursery has been part of the community for many years; the argument that others do without such a facility does not automatically clear the way for our own nursery to be removed.

We would also offer up the point that Keiss Primary is a well-attended and fully-operational school. If the nursery closes, this will have an impact on school attendance. There is no justification for this situation to arise.

2. At Keiss Primary School, as at other schools with nurseries attached, the nursery children are included in transitional activities prior to moving into Primary 1 classes. This reduces the stress and alienation that many children may feel when moving into a larger school. Transitional activities also allow all the children to become familiar with other students and staff.

Our belief is that such a nurturing, beneficial system should provide a role-model for other communities, rather than face the possibility of closure.

3. In respect to long-term viability, our figures indicate that Keiss is a developing catchment, with a large number of young children. Whilst nursery usage figures can only be confirmed for the following 3 – 4 years, we have compiled the following enrolment projections:

  • 2005 / 2006 11 students

  • 2006/2007 10 students

  • 2007/2008 11 students

  • 2008/20096 13 students

We feel that these figures amply support our argument that Keiss Nursery should remain open.

Furthermore, it was indicated to the Keiss Nursery Action Group that reasons for possible closure were based on student numbers. A nursery with less than 10 students would be reviewed in regard to long-term viability. If this is the case, then Keiss Nursery’s projected student numbers show that this argument is not relevant in our case.

We were also told that proposals for closure were not being made on a financial basis. However, financial considerations were raised at the meeting earlier this term. Specifically, the issue of a large number of nurseries being opened some years ago, leading to over-supply in some areas, was mentioned. We would argue that in Keiss’s case, the provision of one nursery for a catchment area stretching from Loch Wester, to Lyth and to Auckengill, is in no way an “over-supply”.

We would ask that if nurseries are to be closed on the basis of financial restructuring or cuts in education, this is to be plainly stated to the parents and community members of each affected community. Details of expenditure and funding allocation should also be provided to back up such closures as are deemed necessary.

We believe that the future of Keiss Nursery is in no way guaranteed. We also firmly believe that our nursery is vital to our community’s future and that Keiss can sustain a nursery well into the future.

A public meeting has been arranged for Friday the 14th of October at 6pm. It will be held in the Keiss village hall. Jamie Stone MSP has been asked to attend. along with local Councillors.

Attendance by all interested parties is welcomed. In the event of any change to the meeting date, details will be posted on this web page and in the village.

2 June 05
Report And Latest Action From Helen Ellis For KNAG
On Monday, 30 May 2005, around 40 local parents from the communities of Keiss and Thrumster gathered outside the Thurso Town Hall to convey a message of support for their nurseries. Local councillors were given a clear indication of community feeling, as protesters carried placards and banners decrying the closure of the Keiss and Thrumster nurseries, along with Dunnet Playgroup.

Councillor David Flear spoke to protesters in the town hall and confirmed that, whilst a final decision on the future of the nurseries had not been made, he and other local councillors shared the view that nurseries needed to be kept open.

A meeting of the committee for children and young people, which would be held in Inverness on Friday, 3 June 2005, would examine the issue.

Councillor Flear indicated that people could attend the meeting in Inverness and make submissions to Margaret Davidson (email: margaret.davidson.cllr@highland.gov.uk . Councillor Flear stated that, whilst many factors would be considered in relation to nursery provision, community consultation is essential and that Caithness councillors would be supporting the concerns of the protestors.

On Tuesday, 31 May 2005, around 50 adults and as many children gathered in Wick’s Market Square and marched to Rhind House, the Highland Council’s local education office.

Spokesperson Carrie-Anne Johnston was allowed inside to speak with Graham Nichols, who confirmed that the Highland Council had given an assurance, within the last hour, that the Keiss and Thrumster nurseries would remain open for at least 12 months and that any changes to nursery provision will be subject to a period of community consultation.

Some of the outcomes of yesterday’s protest included confirmation of the following points:

  1.  That the review into nursery provision in Caithness was done in Inverness;

  2. No representative or person involved in the review came to assess Keiss Nursery in person. No visits were made in order to speak to parents or observe the children in their learning environment;

  3. The issue is one of providing a “good service”, rather than a financial one (ie does a smaller nursery fulfil the educational needs of children); and

  4. The review’s recommendations are still in action and will still influence future decisions in regard to our nurseries.

Whilst we are pleased that a period of reprieve has been obtained for our nursery in Keiss, and that a period of public consultation has been assured, the situation still needs close and careful monitoring by parents and community members if we are to keep Keiss Nursery open well into the future:

  • If the points of the review, chaired by Bill Alexander of the Highland Council, are still active in forming policies regarding our nursery school, then more direct examination of these are needed. For example, if the Scottish Executive’s guidelines are for class numbers of 10 or more children, exactly research (both educational or otherwise) is this figure based on? Does that research take into account individual communities and case-studies of villages like Keiss or Thrumster?

  •  A period of public consultation will enable us to make comments on any proposals that affect the nursery, but in turn this needs to be done as early as possible and as openly as possible. Rather than being caught unawares as we were last week, parents and community members need sufficient time to consider the proposals, participate in discussions and ask relevant questions, prior to writing submissions.

  • It is essential that individual situations are assessed on an “as-needs” basis, so that guidelines are not rigidly imposed upon communities without any consideration of the specific and individual needs of that community.

It is proposed that a community-based group in Keiss will be formed to monitor any developments in this matter.

I believe that we have given the Highland Council a very strong indication of community opinion on nursery closures. This issue has highlighted the intense desire of many people to keep education accessible and localised and also illustrates how any future attempts to downgrade or remove nursery facilities will be met by the very people whom these decisions affect.

It should also be noted that the meeting in Inverness on Friday, 3 June 2005 is a closed meeting and is not open to the public. My suggestion is that people email or write to Margaret Davidson margaret.davidson.cllr@highland.gov.uk  to make their submissions prior to this date.

For any queries, please contact Helen Ellis on 631 727 or email on handb@surfanytime.net

31 May 05
Nursery Groups Jubilant - Full Consultation With Parents Before Any Action
A large group of parents , children and supporters met in the Market Square in Wick and march from the council offices to the education offices in Rhind House today to make there feelings known about any possibility of closing nurseries in Caithness.  After a while an official came out to announce that a decision had been notified after local intervention that no decisions would be taken without full parent consultation which was unlikely to be until well into next year.  The Keiss and Thrumster nurseries were specifically mentioned (these being the ones principally concerned as being on council premises) but no others.  A briefing meeting is to be held in Inverness on Friday and is not open to the public as had been previously thought.  The reason for this is that this will be the first chance that councillors have had to hear about the current position.

30 May 05
Keiss Nursery Supporters Lobby Caithness Area Councillors At Thurso Town Hall Meeting
The Keiss Nursery supporters group comprising parents, children and other people from the local community turned out in numbers today to lobby councillors and make sure they knew how they felt about the need for a local nursery in Keiss.  Councillors met with the group in the main hall at Thurso town hall and heard convenor David Flear say that nothing had been decided yet and that councillors from all over Highland were to attend briefing on Friday at the council chambers in Inverness.
Next Stop Demo at Market Square, Wick
Tuesday, 31 May 2005 at 2.00pm outside Highland Council.

29 May 05
The parents and community of Keiss are determined to fight the proposed closure of the Keiss Nursery by the Highland Council. We believe that the nursery is a vital resource, providing excellent education for our children and we simply CANNOT allow this to be taken away from us.

The closure of the nursery will have many serious implications for both our children and our village. Some of these include:

  1. The children who attend the nursery participate in transitional activities with Keiss Primary School prior to moving into Year 1. If our children are forced to attend other nurseries, either in Wick or Canisbay, this vital transitional stage will be missed and children will be unable to become familiar with the primary school, prior to the commencement of the school year. Every parent and teacher is aware that ensuring a smooth transition between pre-school and primary education is essential for the happiness and well being of children. If Keiss Nursery closes, our children, to their disadvantage, will miss this transitional stage.

  2. Many children have siblings who attend Keiss Primary School. It is impossible for parents to deliver their children to separate schools, which may be 7 or 8 miles apart.

    With the best will in the world, and despite an intense desire that our children should be able to attend their local school, educating children locally may become impossible to sustain. Attendance at Keiss Primary School will, in all likelihood, start to decline.

    We feel, however, that there is no reason for parents to be forced to make this difficult choice. We have a wonderful, fully operational nursery and excellent primary school in our village. We have a large number of young children who are going to require nursery places in the next few years and Keiss is attracting many young couples and families into the area who, in all likelihood, will require these services.

    We believe the nursery is sustainable and provides parents with the best possible option of educating their children locally, in a familiar and safe environment.

  3.  The journey to Wick (North School) is a total round trip, from Keiss, of 15 miles. This would be done twice a day by parents (in dropping off and picking up their children), resulting in 30 miles of travelling a day, 3 – 5 days per week. Canisbay is a round trip of 17.5 miles, which results in 35 miles per day of travelling. The road from Keiss to Canisbay is a one-lane road, which is difficult to travel on in inclement weather conditions.

    Many parents have expressed concerns over the inordinate amount of time which they would have to spend in transporting their children to and from nursery school, if their children had to either attend North School or Canisbay. Some parents have had to concede that if Keiss Nursery closes, they will be unable to make alternative travel arrangements for their children and therefore these children will not be able to attend nursery.

    Also factored into this is the additional expense for families in transport costs. Most families with young children are conscious of having to stay within strict budgets. Some families would be basically unable to bear additional fuel costs, whilst others may have to make sacrifices in other areas to accommodate these costs.

    Some parents either lack transport or have only 1 car, which is often not available for their use (ie. when their partner is working, mechanical difficulties etc). The implications of Keiss Nursery closing for these families is extremely serious and poses the possibility of some children completely missing out on nursery school education.

    The possibility of any child missing out on a nursery education due to these reasons is in complete contradiction of government policies and pledges to support and improve educational opportunities for our children.

  4. Many families base their decision on where to live, in part, due to the educational facilities on offer. If these facilities are removed, new families may choose other villages or areas in preference to Keiss, rather than face long commuting distances. Again, this may have long-term repercussions on the community as well as disadvantaging families who have already settled here.

    An inability to attract new families to our area adds to the downward spiral effect of school closures and removal of vital services from rural areas.

    Our children deserve far better. Nurseries across the Highlands form a vital link in the educational chain and the targeting of them for closure is unacceptable. The community of Keiss is undertaking the following steps to help save their nursery:

  • Lobbying of local Councillors, our MSP Jamie Stone and John Thurso MP.

  • A prominent signage campaign in the village, targeting traffic moving between Wick and John O’Groats.

  • A petition, placed in the local village shop for people to sign.

  • Jamie Stone MSP is to bring up questions in the Scottish Executive’s question time, seeking the Executive’s stance on the proposed closures.

  • Bringing the issue to the attention of the local media, including the John O’Groat Journal and Grampian News. We are also contacting the Scottish Herald to seek their support in covering the story in their educational supplement.

  • Parents and other community members will be present outside the Caithness Council meeting on Monday, 30 May at 10.00 am to lobby councillors in person and highlight the closures.

  • A protest meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, 31 May 2005 at 2.00pm outside Highland Council offices in Market Square, Wick.

You can lend your support to our campaign. Please write, telephone or email your local councillor and express your views on the proposed closure of nursery facilities in the Caithness region.

We cannot afford to lose Keiss Nursery and we will fight to ensure continuing access to nursery places for our children. It may be a small nursery in a small village, but to our children it means the whole world.

HMIe Report 1 September 2004