The Scottish government passed legislation in 2010 to ensure that where a local authority was proposing to close a school in a rural area, that it was purely for educational benefit and the rural nature of such a school was very much taken into account.
It was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament and everybody went into it with the best of intentions. However, it has become clear that there have been different interpretations of the act.
There has been criticism from all three partners involved in the act – the Scottish government, local authorities and parents. The number of call-ins and concerns over the protection of rural communities were just a few of the issues.
It is in everyone’s interests to pause and take time to consider these concerns and the act itself. I have asked all of Scotland’s local authorities to adopt a moratorium on rural school closures for the next 12 months and to help me set up a Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education where we can look at all the issues surrounding rural education.
The delivery of education in rural communities is about much more than just a school building. A school can be as fundamental to the social and economic make-up of a community.
That is why it is the right of individual communities to have a genuine consultation based on accurate information and why there is, and will remain, a clear legislative presumption against closure.
This isn’t about money, this is about educational benefit and giving rural communities the chance to thrive. I want to work in partnership with CoSLA, local authorities and other groups on this issue and will announce the membership of the commission and its full remit shortly.
Our rural communities are the beating heart of Scottish society and I am well aware that the closure of rural school could strip a community of a prize asset. Community groups are key to the work of the commission as it moves forward and I want to makes sure they are fully engaged.
Cabinet Secretary for Education