THE constituency MSP for Dingwall has called on Highland Council to upgrade a crumbling school building which she claims is "like something out of Oliver Twist".
The St Clement’s school building, which dates back to the Victorian era, has a failing heating system which has resulted in pupils having to wear hats, scarves and coats in classrooms to keep warm.
Children attend from as far afield as Ullapool, Alness, the Black Isle and Inverness.
MSP Kate Forbes visited the school at the request of its parent council, who have branded the building "not fit for purpose".
Education Scotland condemned the premises during a 2014 school inspection because it does not provide a satisfactory range or quality of facilities and narrow corridors and doors challenge pupils with limited mobility.
One classroom can only be accessed through the staff room.
The school is comprised of three separate buildings, meaning children have to go outside in all weathers to get to the dining room and other facilities on campus.
Speaking after the visit, Miss Forbes said: "The St Clement’s school building dates back to the Victoria era, so it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to Highland Council that it’s past its sell-by date and in need of replacement.
"I was aghast to hear from parents that the heating system regularly breaks down, and that children are having to wear hats and coats in class to keep warm. That’s like something out of Oliver Twist. When you see the excellent facilities at the likes of Drummond School in Inverness, which was purpose-built to accommodate the wide spectrum of children with additional support needs, you can’t help but feeling that St Clement’s is getting a raw deal.
"Cold, dark, small, narrow and draughty rooms and corridors are simply not conducive to a healthy learning environment, and this must be rectified for these long-suffering Highland children.
"I take my hat off to the staff who are doing their level best in the circumstances, but the time has come for Highland Council to take decisive action for the good of pupils, parents and teachers alike."
Last week, MSP Maree Todd, the minister for childcare who is also from Ross-shire, said the school was not fit for purpose.
In a heartfelt letter to Highland Council, Joanna Dymock, who has a child at St Clement’s, said she was disgusted a replacement school was still sidelined from the proposed capital plan.
She said: "Life is already a struggle for those with special needs. They already have been dealt an unfair hand in life and yet after decades of shocking facilities, you still can’t bring yourselves to consider them as worthy of equitable and adequate school provision. I am sickened to my stomach."
SNP councillor Graham Mackenzie, a former rector of Dingwall Academy, said: "It is now way beyond time for a similar project in Dingwall to enhance the accommodation for pupils."
Fellow ward councillor Alister Mackinnon said: "It’s probably one of the worst school buildings in the Highland Council area. Staff do a great job and the building does not complement that."
After approval as part of Highland Council's capital budget agreed on Wednesday applications will now be made to the Scottish Government for improvement work - though campaigners have branded that a cop-out.