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Nationalists divided and community angry over transfers from Tomintoul

THE SECRETARY of State could shortly face another test of the Government's policy that the financial drive to rationalise schools should not outweigh educational factors.

This time there will be the added spice that an SNP council is involved.

Last week's decision by Moray education committee to transfer the third and fourth year pupils from the secondary department of Tomintoul School to the six-year Speyside High will first have to be confirmed by the full council, which was due to meet yesterday (Thursday).

The education committee recommendation to the council was taken by 10 votes to seven. It led to angry exchanges after Anna Scott, a member of the ruling SNP administration, abstained in the vote, although she is the local member for the Tomintoul area.

Mrs Scott was reported to be opposed to the decision to transfer the pupils.

But she later told her local paper that she would have been "kicked out of the party" if she had voted against her colleagues.

Community leaders expressed astonishment. Bill Grant, Tomintoul school board chairman, labelled her decision a "disgrace." Edward Stuart, chairman of the Kirkmichael and Tomintoul Community Association, said he was "amazed".

The Scottish Secretary's approval for any change in school provision is required if the pupils live more than ten miles from the nearest secondary. In this case Speyside High is 24 miles away.

The council has been wrestling with the fate of the 22-pupil Tomintoul Secondary for two years as it battles to plug the holes in its budget.

Initial proposals for a full closure were rejected. So was a plan to leave the Tomintoul pupils in the village but place the school under the Speyside High management.

The current compromise will produce staff savings of around pound;72,500 but increase transport costs by pound;19,622. The council expects, however, to benefit from the sale of the building and reduced running costs.

Margo Howe, the education committee chairman, described the transfer of the third and fourth years as a merger. She said the SNP's pledge not to close schools during its administration was therefore intact.

But parental and community spokespersons fear that educating only first and second year pupils at Tomintoul, effectively creating a 5-14 school, will pave the way for eventual closure.

The Western Isles is the only authority with S1S2 schools - it has eight.

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