Protecting rural schools

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POLITICS…
Moves to ensure rural communities get the full benefit from rules on school closures took a step forward today.

A working group has been created to draw up revised guidance that will ensure local authorities fully explore all alternatives to rural school closures.

Announcing the membership of the new group, Education Secretary Michael Russell said:

“Rural schools are part of the fabric of education provision in Scotland. I am proud of the legislation we introduced to offer greater protection to rural schools and which gives parents stronger rights than ever before.

“However I am concerned that some rural communities that face losing their schools feel alternative proposals they put forward are being ignored or overlooked. That’s why I recently announced plans to look again at the consultation process and to ensure that all alternatives are properly examined, tested and – where they hold water – accepted.

“This new working group will bring together all the key players to draw up robust, workable guidance for local authorities. Once in place it will offer further reassurance to communities that the financial constraints facing Scotland does not make school closures inevitable.”

The working group will be chaired by the Scottish Government and include representatives from the following organisations:

* Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA)
* Association of Directors of Education (ADES)
* Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education (HMIE)
* Scottish Rural Schools Network
* National Parent Forum of Scotland
* Children in Scotland

Mr Russell also confirmed today that in accordance with civil service advice he will not be involved in any ministerial decisions that may be required in the future in relation to proposed school closures put forward by Argyll and Bute Council.

Under the new legislation introduced by the Scottish Government, Ministers have the power to call in local authorities’ plans for school closures when there is evidence that the new robust consultation process has not been properly adhered to or that education benefits will not accrue from the change.

This role is usually undertaken by the Education Secretary but as a resident and parliamentary candidate in Argyll and Bute, Mr Russell would be deemed ineligible to do so. Therefore, any decisions in relation to proposals put forward by the Council will instead be taken by another Scottish Minister. This decision does not affect school closure decisions in any other part of Scotland or Mr Russell’s advocacy of Government policy on rural schools.