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Threat to Caithness nursery shocks parents and staff

By Gordon Calder

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PARENTS and staff at a Caithness nursery are "devastated" it could close after Highland Council axed its £28,000 funding.

They are "shocked and horrified" at the threat to the Scallywags nursery at Crossroads primary and claim it could affect the future of the school, which has a long association with the royal family and is close to the late Queen Mother's former home at the Castle of Mey.

Under the plan, the youngsters would be transferred to other facilities at Castletown, Canisbay or Thurso at the start of the autumn term but opponents say that could reduce the intake at the school and threaten its long-term viability.

The closure of the nursery could affect the future of Crossroads school.
The closure of the nursery could affect the future of Crossroads school.

Karen Williamson, the early years practitioner and manager at Scallywags, is "devastated by the thought of closure".

She said: "Everybody is shocked and horrified at the plan. People feel the nursery is part of the community.

"We hope Highland Council will change its decision. We have five youngsters aged from two to pre-school age here at the moment but we can accommodate up to 15.

"If the nursery closes the children's parents would have further to drive to transport them to other facilities. Public transport is not that good in this area."

Mrs Williamson added: "This decision would leave Crossroads without an associated nursery and the worry is that it could reduce the intake for the school as children would be used to going elsewhere and making friends there. They may not then want to go back to the school for their primary education."

Parent Dylan Fogarty-MacDonald, whose two-and-a-half year-old daughter Ellie goes to the nursery, said he is "very, very sad" about the plan.

"It is a little hub for the community and has a lovely environment," he said. "Ellie felt comfortable here immediately. It is a community facility and much appreciated by everyone. It would be a great loss if it closed."

Dunnet and Canisbay Community Council is also concerned about the proposal and the impact it could have on the school.

Vice-chairman Bill Mowat said members are "very concerned over the planned closure" which could have "a huge detrimental effect on our families, community and Crossroads Primary school".

He said: "We urge Highland Council to reconsider this decision. The community council feels the closure of the nursery will put the future of this rural school at risk. Nursery infants will make new friends at other facilities and will press their parents to send them there when the enter primary education at five.

"That will be to the detriment of school roll at Crossroads and could lead to its closure in the longer term."

A Highland Council spokeswoman said the decision to withdraw the annual block grant payment to Scallywags relates to the Scottish Government’s commitment to increase the funded Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) entitlement from 600 hours to 1140 hours for eligible two, three and four-year-olds.

"Within the geographical area in question there are a number of settings which can offer long-term sustainability of ELC provision. We will continue to assess and review service delivery and provision as the landscape changes and evolves."

Scallywags nursery has been at Crossroads school since 2007 and was previously the Dunnet Playgroup. It received £28,000 from Highland Council last year.

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