ONE of the most tortuous school closure sagas in Scotland appeared to be drawing to an end this week. The Western Isles education committee agreed by 12 votes to five to close the 120-pupil Lews Castle School in Stornoway and merge it with its larger neighbour, the Nicolson Institute.
The decision was taken despite a 3,000-signature petition urging councillors to retain the smaller school, which has been running for 50 years as a unique vocational secondary. The full council has to confirm the plan at its meeting on February 20.
If it approves the recommendation that the merger should take effect from next June, this will be almost four years since the council first decided that Stornoway should have a new combined secondary.
However the controversial marriage had to be put off following a legal chllenge by a parent which resulted in a Court of Session ruling in July 1999 that the consultation process had been flawed. The council had by then taken a hotly contested decision to narrow down the options for consultation to the closure of Lews Castle, in the knowledge that the Nicolson Institute was in the process of establishing vocational courses in collaboration with the local further education college.
While the committee's decision this week reflected the majority view that there should be no artificial barriers between vocational and academic education, Neil Galbraith, the former director of education, warned in his submission that councillors "should not be misled into believing that what is being suggested for vocational education is a continuation of the Lews Castle School provision".