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Better protection for rural schools

1 May 2008 03:57 PM Proposals to safeguard rural schools and for better consultation before all proposed closures were launched today.

Speaking at a rural Ayrshire primary school as she launched a consultation on a "Safeguarding Rural Schools" Bill seeking the views of parents, young people, teachers and other interested groups, Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop said:

"Local schools are an important part of ensuring vibrant local communities and local economies in villages across rural Scotland.

"It is important that rural schools get the protection that they need and this Government wants their future safeguarded. There can be much heart-ache and time-consuming efforts in current consultations and we want to try and relieve that. This Government wants to make the process for handling all school closures fairer, more robust and more transparent, and we want to see better consultation before any decision is taken.

"Our proposals would lead to a number of improvements in the way authorities consult on all school closures. They would have to provide an educational benefit statement, consult for a minimum of six weeks of term time and extend the list of consultees to include among others, HMIE.

"In the case of rural schools specifically, the authorities would also have to have regard to alternatives to closure, the impact on the community including use of the buildings and the impact on the environment of new travel requirements.

"The consultation will run until September 19 to allow for school holidays and giving a full three months of term time for responses and therefore plenty of opportunity for everyone to register their views. I would urge everyone with an interest in schools to take part."

We intend to introduce the Bill at the earliest suitable legislative opportunity, after we have considered the responses to the consultation.

There are around 1,000 schools in rural areas (as defined by the Scottish Government's Urban/Rural Classification). This means 41 per cent of primary schools and 23 per cent of secondary schools are rural schools, using this classification.

Improving the 1981 regulations governing the consultation processes for all school closures (and for changes of site and catchment area) is long overdue.

Many of the changes proposed are already established good practice, for some authorities -we believe they should be legal requirements for all to ensure a fair and robust system.

Below is a summary of the main consultation points:

Improving the consultation process

We think that when considering making certain changes (including closing a school) a council should have to:

    * Publish a consultation paper, including an educational benefit statement about the proposals
    * Consult for at least six weeks of term time
    * Seek the independent views of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education (HMIE)
    * Hold a public meeting on its proposals and
    * Publish a report of what people said during the consultation (including HMIE's views), and how the council has responded

Safeguarding rural schools

We want to make sure that councils look at all the options, and effects on communities, before they decide to propose closing a rural school. So for rural schools, as well as the points above, we also want councils to have to consider:

    * Alternatives to closing a rural school
    * The impact on the community of closing a rural school
    * The impact of closing a rural school on the community's use of the school's buildings, facilities and grounds and
    * Impact of new travel patterns on pupils, others, and on the environment if a rural school closes

Related Information

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Consultations/Current