Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Consultation on school closures stopped

Argyll and Bute Council has agreed to stop its consultation process on proposals to amalgamate 11 primary schools.

The decision was taken at the council meeting on June 14 where members agreed to stop the consultation process. The decision comes in light of advice, given by the cabinet secretary for education and lifelong learning, to the Scottish Parliament, on Thursday 9 June, that the current schools consultation legislation is “defective.”

The council did not agree to support the cabinet secretary’s request for a one-year moratorium on proposals to close rural schools. Instead councillors agreed the moratorium should be discussed with the Scottish Government by COSLA, on behalf of all councils. The council will also ask COSLA to investigate how the implementation of the legislation was carried out by the government and will ask it to consider the possibility of a judicial review.

Council leader Dick Walsh said:

“In light of the comments made by the education secretary to the Scottish Parliament, where he outlined his concerns with the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010, and described the Act as “defective” we feel it is right to stop our consultation process. It is not appropriate for the council to continue working under legislation which the education secretary himself believes to be flawed and not fit for purpose.

“We will work with COSLA to explore the wider implications of a moratorium and the impact it will have on education across Argyll and Bute.

“Our priority remains to provide all children in Argyll and Bute with a high standard of education. We welcome the news that the education secretary will examine the links between rural schools and the support and development of vibrant rural communities.

“We hope the education secretary will look at collaborative learning as part of his review and see how this can be applied successfully in very small, rural schools.

“Today’s decision to stop the current consultation process does not change the fact that in Argyll and Bute we have considerable surplus capacity in our primary schools. It does not change the fact that some of our schools have as few as three or four pupils, which makes it very difficult to successfully implement collaborative learning techniques such as Curriculum for Excellence. It does not change the fact that we have been advised for a number of years by audit and inspection bodies to review our school estate.

“We need to make sure our children and our teachers have access to education techniques which are recognised as best practice for today and tomorrow.”

The council also welcomed Mr Russell’s proposal to establish a commission to investigate the delivery of rural education and supports the view that Audit Scotland and HMIE should be part of the process.

Councillor Walsh continued:

“As Argyll and Bute Council has the most recent and most extensive experience of trying to work within the current legislation we feel representatives from the council should form part of the commission itself. Rural schools in dispersed communities make up a large proportion of Argyll and Bute’s education establishment. We have tried to work within the current legislation and have seen first hand the inconsistencies in its application. We are very keen to share this experience with the commission and help to refine the legislation.

“We specifically would like the scope of the commission to cover collaborative learning in small schools, a definitive model for defining school capacity and an absolute definition of educational benefit. It should also include guidelines to determine the sustainability of school buildings and equipment.

“Until we have these clear guidelines it is impossible for any new legislation to be applied fairly or consistently across all schools.”

The council agreed the decision to halt consultation would not apply to schools which have no pupils.