ISLAND families are up in arms over a refusal by Highland Council to send their children home from school every weekend.

Despite angry protests, the council has withdrawn the weekly boat service, meaning the children of the Small Isles can only return home every fortnight – even though it costs more to house them in a hostel.

One Eigg parent, whose daughter has just started secondary school on the mainland, said she was phoning home in tears every night because of the council’s intransigence.

The islanders say the decision flies in the face of council and Scottish Government pledges to try to stem island depopulation and is harming their children’s mental health.

They cannot understand why the service is being withdrawn when Eigg, where most of the children live, is only a 45-minute boat trip away.

The bombshell that the service was being withdrawn was dropped on the islanders of Rum, Eigg and Muck, on the last day of the summer term. Since then they have been campaigning to try to make the council change course but to no avail.

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Before Covid, despite years of island protests, the service was fortnightly with children staying in a hostel in Mallaig every second weekend but during the pandemic it was agreed to send them home every Friday.

The islanders expected this to continue, especially as Mallaig headteacher Jeremy Newnham initially told them he supported the view that the weekly boat appeared to meet the needs of parents and students.

However he has now written to them to say he has been informed that if they take their children out of school on Fridays, so they can return home at their own expense on the CalMac public ferry, their absences will be unauthorised.

The angry parents have now written to local MSP Kate Forbes and Islands Minister Mairi Gougeon (below) asking them to intervene. The Scottish Government recently announced it is offering £50k to people to encourage them to stay on the islands.

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In their letter they say they are “beyond furious” about the situation.

They also point out that a letter to Highland Council a fortnight ago remains unanswered. In it they stressed that every family bar one wanted the weekly service to remain.

The council is run by a coalition administration of the Independent Group, the LibDem Group and the Labour Group.

There are four secondary school children on Eigg, three on Rum and one on Muck who are required to attend school on the mainland. During the week they stay in the Mallaig hostel along with children from Knoydart who go home every weekend.

A Freedom of Information request from the islanders established that the cost of a weekly ferry would amount to £4200 per month as opposed to £5336.92 per month to house them in the hostel for the two weekends they currently have to stay there.

The children have written to Highland Council begging for a change of heart.

One said: “Since I first went to the hostel in 2016 I have wanted to have a weekly boat. The island is too close to be stuck in the hostel for two weeks. It is difficult moving away from home at the age of 11 or 12 and being able to go home every week would make the whole new experience a lot easier, and more enjoyable for most.”

Another said: “My island is very important to me, and it upsets me that we can only go home every fortnight. As this will be my first year at high school, me, mum, and dad are worried that we won’t see much of each other. My family are very close with each other, and it might make us less close being far apart for so long. In high school we need to make many decisions about classes, friendships etc which is something that you can’t discuss over phone, email, or Facetime.

“It’s much better to be able to do this face to face. I am also worried about being homesick.”

She added: “Starting in a new school and being a teenager is difficult but coming home every week will make a difference. It will also be good for my mental health during my teen years.

“I truly hope that I can go home every week.”

Another first year pupil said: “I want the school boat to come every week so I do not have to stay away from my parents for as long. And I will also miss my dog.”

The islanders have been supported by Highland councillor Ben Thompson who said his family had left Torridon when he was small because his sister had to board at Plockton.

“A weekly ferry has been raised numerous times over the years but now it has proven easily possible, I really don’t see the obstacle,” he said.

Highland Council and the Scottish Government were approached for comment, with a spokesperson for the Scottish Government saying the council was “best placed to respond”.