Council body opposes moratorium on rural school closures

The umbrella body for councils in Scotland has rejected education secretary Mike Russell’s year-long moratorium on rural school closures.

Cosla’s leadership board discussed the issue yesterday and decided that no clear case had been made for halting such closures and suggested the moratorium would undermine local government’s “careful management of rural education”.

Mr Russell announced the moratorium two weeks ago along with the setting up of a commission to review the legislation on school closures which he admitted was ambiguous.

Councillors on the SIC’s education and families committee will meet tomorrow to discuss a recommendation from officials that the consultation on the closure of Olnafirth Primary School, planned for the autumn, be postponed.

Parents of children at Burravoe and Uyeasound primaries are also hoping that Mr Russell will call in and overturn council decisions to close those schools.

Cosla president Pat Watters said: “There was a clear view that no case had been made for such a moratorium and that the terms in which the cabinet secretary had described the need for a moratorium undermined local government’s careful management of rural education. Councils do understand the legislation that currently exists, councils do have the best interests of all their pupils in terms of education attainment as their number one priority, councils do recognise the impact of rural school closures on broader community and township development, and while councils do append a financial statement around school closure programmes, this is not because they are driven by finance but rather because to ignore financial implications would be unprofessional and unrealistic.

“The truth is of 35 schools proposed for closure, few have been called in and the minister has only felt able to refuse the closure of four of these under the current legislation. These figures hardly represent a crisis in rural school management.”

He added: “There are always tensions when it comes to school closures. In the rural setting, these may be particularly acute and it may be argued impinge to a greater extent on other rural development issues so some discussion with ministers about how these tensions can be resolved would be no bad thing. In this context, Cosla’s leadership believes a commission may do some good but local government cannot be simply a participant in this commission, it must be the co-author of its terms of reference, membership, ways of working, etc.”

The organisation is to seek meetings with Mr Russell and First Minister Alex Salmond.


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