MSP Joan McAlpine raised the issue of the proposed closures of Ae, Kirkbean and Garlieston Primary schools in the Scottish Parliament today.
The MSP, who is supporting parents battling to save Ae and Kirkbean Primary Schools, asked for the support of Education Secretary John Swinney in their fight to stop the closure.
The Scottish Government has “a presumption against the closure of rural schools” and has passed laws in 2010 and 2014 to make it more difficult for councils to do so.
During an exchange in Parliament this morning, the SNP MSP asked the Cabinet Secretary whether he agreed the Council must listen to local communities and take into account the devastation that would be felt in these villages if the schools were to close.
Responding, Mr Swinney said:
“The Scottish Government recognises that rural schools play a hugely important part in ensuring a vibrant and sustainable local community and economy in towns and villages across rural Scotland. That is why in 2014 this Government made amendments to the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 to make the consultation process for school closure proposals more transparent and rigorous and strengthen the requirements relating to rural schools.
“The local authority is obliged to follow the terms of the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010, which requires it to undertake a statutory consultation in line with the act should it decide to pursue that approach. That includes, among other things, complying with the special arrangements that apply to rural schools and ensuring that parents and all those affected by the proposal have an opportunity to make their views known. I expect the local authority to meet its obligations under the 2010 act.
Commenting, Ms McAlpine said:
“I am pleased that Mr Swinney agrees that the Council has to take into account the devastating impact, both in terms of education but also community sustainability, if these schools were to close.
“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.
“I do not believe that the Council has done this in these cases.”
Ms McAlpine attended community meetings in both Ae and Kirkbean, where she said the strength of feeling against the closures was palpable.
“It is clear that the communities are strongly behind their local schools and do not want them to close.
“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.”
Ms McAlpine is preparing a submission to the consultation herself and has said she believes the Council will see sense and climb down.
Members of the community who feel strongly about these proposals have until the 3rd of October to respond to the consultation and can do so by visiting: http://www.dumgal.gov.uk/consultations