Scottish schools return to the fold

Dornoch Academy and St Mary's Episcopal primary, Dunblane, Scotland's two opted-out schools, are heading back to full local authority control some time next year as talks continue between the boards of management, Highland and Stirling councils and the Scottish Office.

Fort William primary, the third school permitted to opt out, is in limbo. It was due to go self-governing in August before the election intervened. The board retains powers under the opt out legislation not available to other school boards.

Allan Gilchrist, director of education in Highland, said: "We are not in any active discussion."

Ministers and councils hope the two fully opted-out schools will voluntarily opt in to local authority control after securing agreements about their futures. Ian Robertson, head of planning and resources in Stirling, said of St Mary's: "It's open arms, welcome back."

The 60-pupil primary is completing a controversial #163;500,000 refurbishment given the go-ahead by Michael Forsyth, former local MP and Scottish Secretary. Gill Thomas, vice-chairman of the board, said: "We are very happy with the way things are going."

Mr Robertson said the board had been surprised at the extent of administrative and financial devolution now available to Stirling schools. The school will be relieved of payroll and accountancy responsibilities under council control.

Mr Gilchrist said talks with Dornoch board of management were making progress and hoped for agreement "early next year". It is likely a formal consultation process will be carried out. The secondary is now a four-year,122-pupil school and has the previous government's support for extending to a six-year school with 180-200 pupils school over the next three years.

Joan Currie, board chairman, said Dornoch was the exactly the type of good school the Government was looking for.

South of the border, just eight grant-maintained schools want to return to local authority control.

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