Joan McAlpine MSP met with parents battling to save Ae Primary School and pledged her support to the campaign.
The SNP MSP attended a packed meeting of parents at the school this week, to hear their fears about the future of their community and their children’s education, should a proposal by Dumfries and Galloway Council to close the school be successful.
Ms McAlpine told the parents that the Scottish Government had “a presumption against the closure of rural schools” and had passed laws in 2010 and 2014 to make it more difficult for councils to do so.
The Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 and the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 both presume against the closure of rural schools.
She provided the parents with copies of the government guidelines showing how they can use the legislation to make their case during the consultation period and appeal to Scottish Government Ministers should the council push ahead with the proposed closure.
Ms McAlpine said:
“I was very impressed with the parents’ campaign and their determination to save their school.
“The government legislation presuming against rural school closures explicitly states that financial reasons cannot be used to close rural schools.
“The law says that the council must make a fair evaluation based on the education of the children and that evaluation must be accurate. Also, the spirit of the legislation means that the rural school experience must be respected.
“It seems to me that the consultation document circulated by Dumfries and Galloway council does not appear to respect the rural education experience and suggests for example that it disadvantages children with additional needs. But at the meeting we heard a parent whose child does have additional needs describe how they fared much better in Ae than a much larger school.
“Parents are also exposing inaccuracies in the consultation document such as the projection of pupil numbers.”
Ms McAlpine said that she would contribute to the consultation herself and was confident that councillors would climb down. However, she told parents that if the local authority pressed ahead with the closure plan she would urge Scottish ministers to call the decision in for review.
“Our Scottish Government passed these laws because we understand that schools are critical to the health of rural communities, and once the school goes you won’t get it back again, which has an impact on the village.
“Ministers consider the effect on the community of closure. Ae Primary school building is used by a number of groups and is the hub of the village. To lose it would have a devastating effect on the community.”
Ms McAlpine was invited to address the meeting by a concerned parent. She will also attend a meeting of the parent council in Kirkbean later this month, where the primary school is also under threat, along with one in Garlieston.
Statutory Guidance on the Schools (Consultation) Scotland Act 2010 is available here.