Legislative changes aimed at strengthening the protection for rural schools threatened with closure came into effect on Friday.
The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 amends the Schools Consultation (Scotland) Act 2010 by requiring local authorities to carry out more rigorous consultations on all school closures, but in particular on rural schools.
The new requirements are the result of a report from the Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education which recommended the Scottish Government should clarify the presumption against closure for rural schools and school consultations must reach higher standards.
The Commission was set up, at least in part, in response to the furious reaction from parents and communities across Argyll and Bute to controversial proposals to shut a number of rural schools - including North Bute Primary in Port Bannatyne - in 2010-11.
The new measures, which also include the establishment of School Closure Review Panels, to be set up early next year, mean that new evidence must be provided before proposing a rural school for closure, and that all consultations must include accurate and clear information, including costs, in the proposals to close a school.
Under the new regulations, communities will also have a right to challenge any inaccuracies in council proposals and if a school closure is rejected, it will be protected from closure for five years.
Argyll and Bute Council’s proposals were shelved in June 2011 after education minister Michael Russell MSP said he believed existing legislation aimed at protecting rural schools was “defective”.
The present council administration has promised that North Bute is no longer under threat of closure, and indeed a long-awaited programme of capital improvements at the school, including replacement of the roof, is currently under way.
Alasdair Allan MSP, minister for learning in the Scottish Government, said: “Rural schools are at the heart of many of our communities in Scotland and the new legislation will give them greater protection and require councils to undertake more careful consideration before they can propose closure.
“Clearly, local authorities are best placed to consider how to deliver services across their communities and sometimes it is necessary to close a school. However, the new legislation will strengthen parents and pupils’ rights to clear information when these decisions are being considered.”