Councils face new regulations to protect rural schools – The Times

Angus Macleod
\r\nThe Times, 2.5.08

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\r\nMeasures to prevent the closure of schools in rural Scotland should be enshrined in law, the Scottish Government said yesterday.
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\r\nThe change would mean that local authorities would have to consider alternatives to closure, and examine the impact that closure would have on the community, pupils’ travel patterns and the environment.
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\r\nThe proposals were announced in a pre-legislative consultation document by Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, who said that they were part of an effort to make school closures fairer and more transparent.
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\r\nThere are about 1,000 schools in rural communities across Scotland – 41% of all primaries and 23% of all secondaries. 71 rural schools closed between 1998 and 2006, an average of 8 per year.
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\r\nMs Hyslop said that local schools were an important part of ensuring vibrant local communities and local economies in villages across rural Scotland.
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\r\n“It is important that rural schools get the protection that they need, and this government want their future safeguarded,” she added.
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\r\nThe current regulations governing school closured date back to 1981. The new proposals would mean that if a local authority were considering shutting a school it would have to publish a consultation paper, including statement outlining the educational benefits of such a move.
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\r\nIt would have to consult for at least six weeks during term-time, and would also have to seek the views of school inspectors.
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\r\nThe proposals would also require councils to hold a public meeting on their proposals, and to publish a report giving the results of the consultation and their response.
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\r\nMany of the proposed rules are already used by some councils, but ministers believe that they should be legal requirements for all local authorities.
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\r\nThe plans were criticised by the Reform Scotland think tank, which said that it believed that further regulation was not the way to safeguard schools.
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\r\n“Examples from overseas show that devolving greater power to parents and communities to run and set up new schools would, potentially, lead to more rural schools being opened rather than more being closed. Such an increase in choice and diversity would also help raise standards for everyone,” it said.
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\r\n“Passing legislation to prevent rural schools being closed is simply a sticking plaster. The best way to ensure that the educational needs of rural communities are met and to ensure that schools stay open is to give parents the power to choose where they can send their child and make it far easier to set up new schools.”