Diary - Closure or tatties?

Bridget McElroy

I was nervous. This was my first-ever school closure meeting. It was, as it were, an open and shut case. The wee school had only six pupils and all of them were bussed in from outlying areas. Not one lived in the village. Nearly all of them were recent arrivals from the south, and their "parents" had blessed them with names like Sky, Peaceful Princess and Saffron.

The nearest school is the village primary - all of 75 yards (that's correct, y-a-r-d-s) just across the street. It had space enough for six little lost souls. But that's just the problem - souls. We are talking denominational wee school, even if the "parents" wouldn't know what the inside of a church looked like.

I had seen to it that we had followed every step of the procedures. I had had an informal word with the appropriate man of the cloth, and he agreed that the school had had its day. The wee souls would receive appropriate religious education and would have visits from clergy. Every box had been ticked, every assurance given.

We drove to the school hall on a miserable November evening, and Bill, my depute, was furious that he was missing the live cup-tie on Sky that evening. I reckoned that there should have been about three parents at the meeting, and the church representatives. We had catered for 10, just to be safe.

The alarm bells started ringing as we approached the hall. Cars everywhere. Not a parking space to be had. My jaw dropped as we entered and saw about 100 people. Who were they? Where had they come from? You could sense the anger and hostility. Placards were raised. Bill paced out the distance from the top table to the door. He was calculating the speed at which we would have to run, if things turned nasty. Bill had been at closure meetings before.

There were a few boos, as we took our seats. I was introduced as the director of education and, of course, reference was made to my previous role as head of a denominational school. Ouch.

I presented the arguments for closure and the safeguards we had arranged. Silence. A hissing sound was followed by a slow hand-clap, and I saw Bill was gathering his papers. I noticed he was wearing trainers.

Just as we were getting set, a local farmer stood up. He informed the assembled gathering that there were pregnancies galore in the area. Was he personally responsible? The venom of the responses was obvious. The "meeting" was firmly opposed to closure.

As we left, with the angry mob baying for our blood, the farmer, who looked about 80 years old, said: "Look here, hen, if you'll keep oor wee school open, I'll see you're all right for tatties for the rest of your life."

This tempting offer would have to be weighed up before the next committee meeting. Should I declare an interest?

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Bridget McElroy

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