Education authorities have been urged by a Highlands and Islands MSP to take “a wide view” of the impact on local communities when considering whether to close rural schools.
The SNP’s Mike Mackenzie was speaking after raising the issue in Holyrood this week with the Scottish Government’s cabinet secretary for education, Michael Russell.
In his response Mr Russell confirmed the SNP administration’s policy was that there should be a presumption against closure of rural schools - and said any school closures in Argyll and Bute, the constituency he represents, could accelerate the already steep decline in the area’s population by threatening existing small communities.
After the exchange, Mr Mackenzie said: “As the Cabinet Secretary quite rightly said, ‘there is no evidence that the closure of a good school benefits education anywhere’.
“We need to ensure that rural communities are given every opportunity to prosper, and having great rural schools is key to achieving this.”
“I am of course pleased to know that Government’s policy remains that there should be a presumption against closure of rural schools. We now need to know that education authorities are taking a wide enough view when considering rural school closures.”
Argyll and Bute Council sparked huge controversy in 2010 with a review of its school estate which recommended the closure of 11 schools, including North Bute Primary in Port Bannatyne.
Those proposals were put on hold in June 2011 pending a review of Scottish Parliament legislation on the subject, though it wasn’t until November 2013, when council leader Dick Walsh said his administration had no plans to close any schools, that the threat of closure was conclusively removed.