Friction over S3 courses

10th October 1997 at 01:00
Neil Munro reports from the troubled Western Isles on the conflict between a director and his flagship school

There is virtually only one issue on which all parties agree. The worst bone of contention is the curricular choice offered to pupils from third year on. This is to be a major focus of the working group set up to improve relations which, under the chairmanship of Brian Stewart, the council's chief executive, got down to business last Friday.

Stornoway is educationally well endowed for a population of 8,000. The town is served by the six-year Nicolson Institute, Lews Castle College and Lews Castle School, which offers purely vocational courses from S3-S5. Unfortunately for Neil Galbraith, and for public perception of even-handedness, the director's wife is the recently appointed assistant head of Lews Castle School.

The education department argues that pupils do not receive objective advice about subject choices at the end of second year and says staff discourage pupils from going to the vocational school. Nicolson teachers refute the charge, pointing out that they have no interest in denying pupils to the 140-pupil Lews Castle School. Other schools - the Western Isles has a unique patchwork of eight two-year secondaries - are said to be under pressure to send pupils to the smaller school against the wishes of parents.

In a typical illustration of the not-so-close encounters between the two sides, the Nicolson claims Mr Galbraith has prevented it running vocational courses whereas the director insists he simply wants to avoid duplication. The education department says the Nicolson has run just one GSVQ, in hospitality, without a single success. The Nicolson staff say pupils are not attracted by these courses.

There seems little doubt that the chief executive wants Lews Castle School closed. When its future was in the balance two years ago, Mr Stewart underlined the importance attached by the Accounts Commission to eliminating expensive schools. Lews Castle cost Pounds 4,733 per pupil in 1996-97, against the Nicolson's Pounds 3,283.

Councillors decided, however, to stick with the status quo.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today