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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 January 2008, 01:37 GMT
School closure rates 'alarming'
The Conservatives have made a move to cut rural school closures in Scotland.

A child's hand holding a pen
Ministers are to consult on rural school closures

Scottish Tory deputy leader Murdo Fraser, who wants a presumption against shutting rural schools, has introduced a member's bill to the Scottish Parliament in a bid to put his plans on a legal footing.

The proposal is in line with a key SNP manifesto pledge and the Scottish Government is holding its own consultation on the issue in the spring.

Here, Mr Fraser explains why he thinks the move is crucial for protecting local communities.


For years, the doors of Scotland's rural schools have been slamming closed at an alarming rate.

Yet the evidence suggests that these schools generally provide children with an education that is possibly better than, and certainly equal to, that provided by larger, more urban schools.

Parents also say that small rural schools are more likely to provide a friendly, safe environment for their children.

Rural schools bring together not only children and parents but also, in providing a building for activities in the evening and through school events, the wider community.

This is critical for sustaining the local spirit of some of our more remote small towns and villages, which may have lost other vital services such as shops, post offices and petrol stations in recent years.

Local authorities will often justify the closure of small schools on financial grounds. But financial arguments for closure are often wrongly given far more weight than educational considerations and are occasionally even just incorrect.

The reason for this is the weakness of the consultation process upon which local authorities are required to embark before closing a school.

Toughening up this process will therefore be the main area on which my member's bill will concentrate.

In 1998, a "presumption against closure" of rural schools was introduced in England. That brought the rate of closure down from 30 to only three per year.

In contrast, an average of eight rural schools has closed per year in Scotland since 1998, despite the fact that we have much smaller school numbers here.

My bill would seek to mirror the situation in England, giving Scottish ministers more power to veto closure decisions.

I am also proposing the setting up of a Rural Schools Support Fund, of perhaps 5m per year or so, for local communities and headteachers to bid for grants from and so relieve the financial pressure to close their school.

The introduction of my bill adds to the sustained pressure that the Scottish Conservatives have placed on successive devolved administrations to act to safeguard rural schools.

It now seems that SNP ministers share our concerns.

YOUR COMMENTS

"'Yet the evidence suggests that these schools generally provide children with an education that is possibly better than, and certainly equal to, that provided by larger, more urban schools'. Could Mr Fraser direct us to such evidence please?"
JR, Lerwick

"Purely from an educational point of view, closing rural schools is clearly a ridiculous idea, for obvious reasons. Perhaps we should consider what we feel would be an ideal 'money no object' education system and work towards that model instead of making self destructive short-term decisions. Decisions which appear to have the sole purpose of concealing the effects of inadequate policies in an effort to make the statistics look good but will, if continued, inevitably give us a nation of dim witted, poorly educated, rebellious, skill-less losers and a country on its knees. It's happening."
Kevin S Gray, Portpatrick, Scotland

"Our council wants to shut our islands secondary school which allows local children to stay on their own island before crossing the causeway in their third year. It is an excellent community school with academic standards well above the national average and above the authority average. But more than that it is a part of the community and vulnerable communities like ours need to maintain services to remain attractive to families moving in and keeping us sustainable. Will anyone in the Scottish Government stand up and protect us while the issue is under discussion? Or will the council be allowed bulldoze their plans through on the basis of money and falling rolls? We hope not, because outsiders should be looking at our schools as examples and trying to learn from our achievements. The children here achieve high academic standards but also have a wealth of sporting, music and drama opportunities. And they give back by working with and for community they live in. It is all the Scottish Government and Westminster is looking for in student population but no one will step up and protect us. It would be a shame on all involved if we are the last set of schools closed before the rest of Scotland is protected."
Traci Froughi, North Uist, Scotland

"Our village school Hutton was closed against the wishes of the parents, community or indeed members of the Scottish Parliament. But local Tory councillors at Scottish Border Council sealed its fate. They just would not listen. When Conservative MSPs asked them to reconsider, they were told not to interfere in local issues. If the Tories are absolutely sound on this, will they be able to whip local Tory council groups and their councillors?"
Aileen Orr, Hutton Berwickshire

"It is yet another strike at the countryside by an urban focused [UK] Labour government, who have absolutely no idea of how the countryside works or who lives there."
Kate Turner, Welshampton, Shropshire



SEE ALSO
Tories urge rural schools action
21 Jan 08 |  Scotland

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