Defence cuts leave Moray braced for turbulence

22nd October 2010 at 01:00
RAF families are likely to leave in droves, causing sudden downward lurches in school populations and an uncertain future

Schools in Moray were this week bracing themselves for unprecedented turbulence, following the announcement on defence cuts by Prime Minister David Cameron.

The RAF's two bases at Kinloss, which is to close, and Lossiemouth, whose future is in the balance, are both sited in the council's area and have forged its identity since the 1930s. They are worth 5,710 full-time jobs with a gross income of pound;158 million, wages much higher than the local average.

In an authority whose entire population is only 88,000, there are 1,919 RAF children aged up to 16 - of which 1,237 children go to Moray Council's schools.

Richard Donald, Moray Council's head of educational support services, made no attempt to play down the impact of the cuts on schools. Many RAF families are likely to leave en masse, he predicted, causing sudden downward lurches in school populations and uncertain futures.

Kinloss Primary, he recalled, used to be the largest in Moray with a roll of 400. As operations have been scaled back at RAF Kinloss, that has dwindled to 150, but still with about 60 per cent of RAF children. Take them away, Mr Donald said, and "That school really becomes very small."

Forres Academy has 182 pupils from RAF families, representing nearly one in five of all pupils. There were 22 teaching and support staff at the school who were RAF spouses, and another 19 in feeder primaries. Meanwhile, 53 RAF spouses were working in schools outwith the Forres Academy area.

Mr Donald was concerned about the impact of losing many of those at a stroke: "You can't change a large proportion of the teaching staff without changing the school."

The Prime Minister's announcement was a "crushing blow", said Moray Council convener George McIntyre, who feared the impact of losing thousands of highly-skilled people and insisted "we must do all we can to retain those skills in the area".

Since this week's announcement, sources in Moray have learnt - although this was not official at the time of publication - that RAF Kinloss could close by the end of the year, which council officials fear would make it impossible for schools to adapt without huge disruption.

One told The TESS told that the "get-up-and-go" attitude of RAF families was immensely beneficial to schools and the community as a whole, as they threw themselves into events and extra-curricular activities. It was crucial to save RAF Lossiemouth or the whole of Moray would resemble a "ghost town".

Highlands and Islands Enterprise area manager for Moray, Calum MacPherson, has said the scale and long-term presence of the RAF ensured the air force was "woven into surrounding communities". The dangers of removing Moray's bases were therefore "more acute" than anywhere else in the UK.

henry.hepburn@tes.co.uk

CHANGE OF DIRECTION

This is not the first time the closure of an RAF base has hit schools in Scotland. The end of the Cold War made the 2005 demise of RAF Saxa Vord on Unst, Britain's most northerly island, inevitable.

The Shetland island's population fell to 500, from a high of 1,000, and the impact was felt nowhere as keenly as at Baltasound Junior High. The school roll halved; at primary level, numbers fell from 70 to 25.

With many young people already leaving Unst for university and employment, some feared the long-term repercussions when another chunk of the population departed. But Unst prospered regardless, and diverse businesses sprung up covering crofting, salmon farming, a brewery, a chocolatier, an animation studio and renewable energy research.

  • Original headline: Defence cuts leave Moray and its schools braced for turbulence

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