It isn’t about money (Mike Russell)

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.

Mike Russell
Cabinet Secretary for Education


Add Your Comment
  • Alan Skinner

    • June 7th, 2011 16:32

    What a pleasure to read common sense and obvious sincerity from a politician. I sincerely hope that the SIC councillors pay attention and save Burravoe and Uyeasound.
    If Mr Russell’s letter had been published before the recent election, I suspect there would have been a huge swing to the SNP.

  • Sam Thomson

    • June 7th, 2011 16:59

    It seems that Mr Russell’s proposed moratorium on rural school closures isn’t about money or education. As he seems to be sacrificing both with this plan.

  • Steven Brown

    • June 7th, 2011 18:25

    I fully agree with Alan’s sentiment on this latest statement from the education Minister, although us at Burravoe and Uyeasound still have to go through the process of asking for the decision to get called in for further investigation.
    We sincerely hope that the SIC decision to close our rural schools gets over turned, it was blatantely obvious that the main driver was financial.
    We are a considerable distance from Mainland Scotland, but this exercise has shown just how out of touch with Scotlands rules we are as well.
    Its a pity that the member/officer workgroup didn’t read the legislation or get advice before they set out on this ridiculous effort, more money wasted, its just what we are used to !!

  • Marina Thomason

    • June 8th, 2011 13:25

    I really hope that the moratorium will go some way to redress the balance and correct the injustice that is being directed against small schools.

  • Stewart Mac

    • June 13th, 2011 14:16

    I read with interest the comments and debate ongoing regarding the closure of rural schools in Shetland, and whilst an “Ex Pat” i did benefit from the Shetland education system which i consider to be the best in Scotland, Bar none!

    And, whilst it is all very laudible to uphold this and enhance wherever possible it seems to me that i must be the only one questioning where is the money to come from?

    We live in times of austerity, of job cuts, pay cuts, budgets being squeezed left right and centre and yet in Shetland it seems that where the Council are identifying areas ripe for making savings they are shot down by the population at every turn. So i ask, where is the money to come from? The Council like many others is facing tough times – Ever increasing demands on an ever shrinking budget, and inflation at ever increasing levels – Rememeber we have had a Council tax freeze for several years now so no extra income possible there – that was (one of) the prime route(s) for rasing more revenue to fulfil the requirements of residents.

    Take for example the Burravoe school – I like many others would like to see it stay open, along with the other rural schools but i simply dont see how it is possible. If we stick with Burravoe for the moment, projected savings of £100,000 a year will be £104,000 next year £108,100 the year after and so forth. Thats not accounting for any increased demands made by the ever stringent legislation in place. £100,000 this year soon becomes significantly more very quickly with inflation!

    Now sticking on the £100,000 theme, thats about £2 each a week for every resident on Yell would keep the school open, or even less – around £3.85 a YEAR if all the residents of shetland were asked to contribute (which is of course a little misleading as that includes children too) so say double that to £7.69 per adult – doesnt seem much does it? to secure the future of the rural school, BUT if the Council is prohibited from adding to the already high Council Tax burden where is the money to come from? – The Charitable Trust perhaps? – Can Charity money be used for that? and even if it can, Shetland has high demands on the Turst money what with care homes, leisure centres and the like so little scope for funding there.

    The point is that i genuinely dont think the Councillors want to close this or any other school in Shetland but without the budget to carry on as they are there is little choice but to look at drastic solutions.

    As well as campaigning for the school to stay open, may i suggest that those parents who wish to safeguard the future of their schools (remember it may be your local school next) help identify other areas where significant savings can be made and thus help protect the education system.

    Looking from the outside, the biggest drain on resources (other than staff costs) seems to be the inter island ferries but significant cuts there would have a devastating effect on the island communities they serve, so that doesnt seem to be an option either . It seems to me the Council are stuck between a rock and a hard place with this, savings need to be made, but objections are rife at any suggestion – Why not work to help protect what Shetland has rather than object to every cut proposed – Its only going to get worse – Next year another 4% inflation, an even tighter government settlement and even bigger demands for cuts – The problem wont go away in the short term so needs a pro active approach- If every Shetland Council Tax payer paid an extra say £20-£30 a year on their bills i suspect a lot of these problems would not need facing at this time (they wouldnt go away, just could be paid for from the funding available) but this isnt an option at present and even then if it were – who would then be complaining of the ever spiralling Council Tax bills?……………………………..


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