Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has welcomed proposed new legislation from the Scottish Government which will grant greater protection to rural schools
The plans unveiled by Fiona Hyslop during a visit to Dalwhinnie Primary School will tighten up council actions to close rural schools.
The measures include greater consultation with teachers and pupils as well as improved clarity from the Council on the closure process.
The Bill will be debated by MSPs.
Mr Gibson said...
"Rural schools which support a small number of pupils are extremely important. They are often the glue that helps keep remote and rural communities together. It allows parents to live in an area to which they contribute financially and socially. Highland Council has been a good example in recent years but others in the islands and across rural Scotland need a benchmark of good practice. "
"This is yet a further example of the Scottish Government's commitment to remote and rural communities. The closure of a school is a sure fire way to stop young families from moving to an area."
" If a council feels that a school should close then the process must be as transparent as possible and there must be exhaustive consultation to make sure that every avenue to keep the school open is used."
"I hope that the safeguarding of small rural schools will be supported by MSPs across the board."
Note to editor.
The new Bill also proposes that the minimum period for consultations must include at least six weeks of term time. These do not need to be consecutive.
Local authorities will be required to prepare a report following their consultation period comprising:
The number of written responses to the consultation.
HMIE's report on the educational aspects of the proposal.
A summary of views expressed in the written responses and at the public meeting, and of the authority's consideration of and response to those.
Where that has involved exploring or investigating matters or suggestions, details of those activities.
The substance of any inaccuracies alleged during the consultation period and the authority's response to them.
The local authority would not be able to take its final decision until at least 3 weeks after the report is published.
The Bill will replace the current system for referring certain local authority decisions to Ministers for consent with a Ministerial power to call in decisions, but only in relation to school closure decisions and where there have apparently been failures in the consultation or decision making processes. The call-in process will provide a reassurance to those affected by any school closure proposal that a safeguard exists in the rare circumstances where it appears that the new statutory duties contained in the Bill have not been properly fulfilled.