CASH strapped Inverclyde Council is spending thousands of pounds on a top QC to try to stop four children from getting a place at St Columba's High.

Education chiefs are in a dispute with a group of parents after denying the former St Ninian's Primary youngsters placing requests for the Gourock secondary.

Now they are set to go to the wire by fighting the four cases in court only days before the start of the new school term.

But the families say the situation is having a 'devastating' impact on their children, who could still end up separated from siblings and classmates.

They have also questioned the local authority's decision to bring in the leagl big guns to fight them.

One of the parents told the Tele: "We were stunned to be told that the council are hiring a top QC.

"Our solicitors say this is unheard of.

"Now we have been advised to do the same.

"It is going to end up costing us thousands and thousands of pounds, so what will it cost the council and how can they justify this?

"Is this really the best way to spend taxpayers' money, paying for a QC to stop children going to school with their friends' and older brothers or sisters?"

The Tele reported last month that a number of St Ninian's Primary pupils who live outwith the catchment area had been denied a place at St Columba's.

They now face being separated from their classmates and in some cases older siblings who already go to St Columba's.

In a desperate bid to overturn the decision, the pupils wrote a letter pleading to council leader Stephen McCabe and education convenor Jim Clocherty.

But one of the parents added: "No one is listening.

"It is having a devastating impact on us all to see our children suffering like this.

"I have never felt stress like it in my life.

"It looks like the hearing won't take place until days before they go back to school.

"The council say they are sticking to policy but it is children's mental health we are talking about.

Councillors including Lynne Quinn and Colin Jackson and MSP Stuart McMillan have backed the parents.

It's understood the dispute is now having a knock-on effect.

A source said: "Now people are looking at pulling their children out of the primary school to avoid the same thing happening to them."

St Columba's school roll has increased in recent years and education director Ruth Binks has capped the new intake at 120 first year pupils.

Inverclyde Council say that they are willing to fork out the money for top legal advice to defend their position.

A council spokesman: "The council is being represented by Queen’s Counsel because we are facing four appeals.

"We have a duty to protect the public purse since the cost of losing these cases is significantly higher than the cost of legal representation.

"Also, we have a duty to pupils within the catchment area now and going forward to robustly defend these cases.

"The legal action does not change the fact that the school is full.

"It is also not true to say that parents are required to hire Queen’s Counsel because the council has.

"They are not.

"If they have decided to do that, this is their decision.”