No-one who has had to confront Scottish government policy on school closures is likely to be anything other than pleased by the education minister’s announcement of a moratorium and review this week. The legislation is a mess and when legislation is ambiguous wildly differing interpretations are made, as we have seen over the past few years.
However, if Mike Russell’s desire is to prevent closures in all but the most extreme circumstances, he needs to be able to find a mechanism to provide financial support to local authorities to keep open very small, expensive schools, especially where rolls are falling.
The SNP’s record of funding policy commitments in education is no worse than Labour’s was, but while it accepts the educational value of smaller class sizes and early years teachers it has not provided sufficient funding to meet its targets.
Councils are bound by law to spend taxpayers’ money to achieve “best value”. The deal the SNP reached with councils in the last parliament to give greater latitude on spending in return for freezing council tax makes sense only if there is discretion over means or if local authorities are compensated for new legislative restrictions. Either way the big picture will remain a muddle, much as the local/national government division of responsibilities has for decades, even if the immediate issue becomes clearer.
Whatever the outcome, reform has to have the best educational interests of pupils at heart.
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Anecdotally, it has been a good start to the tourist season. Let’s hope it continues and that those individuals and businesses dependent on visitors prosper.