Schools saved as council halts consultation

Argyll and Bute Council has agreed to stop its consultation process on proposals to amalgamate 11 primary schools.

The decision was taken at a council meeting o Tuesday morning, where members agreed to stop the consultation process.

The decision comes in light of advice given by the cabinet secretary for education and lifelong learning, Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell, to the Scottish Parliament last Thursday that the current schools consultation legislation is “defective”.

The council did not agree to support the cabinet secretary’s request for a one-year moratorium on proposals to close rural schools.

Instead councillors agreed the moratorium should be discussed with the Scottish Government by COSLA, on behalf of all councils. The council will also ask COSLA to investigate how the implementation of the legislation was carried out by the government and will ask it to consider the possibility of a judicial review.

Council leader Dick Walsh said: “In light of the comments made by the education secretary to the Scottish Parliament, where he outlined his concerns with the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010, and described the Act as “defective” we feel it is right to stop our consultation process.

It is not appropriate for the council to continue working under legislation which the education secretary himself believes to be flawed and not fit for purpose.

“We will work with COSLA to explore the wider implications of a moratorium and the impact it will have on education across Argyll and Bute.

“Our priority remains to provide all children in Argyll and Bute with a high standard of education. We welcome the news that the education secretary will examine the links between rural schools and the support and development of vibrant rural communities.

“We hope the education secretary will look at collaborative learning as part of his review and see how this can be applied successfully in very small, rural schools.

“Today’s decision to stop the current consultation process does not change the fact that in Argyll and Bute we have considerable surplus capacity in our primary schools. It does not change the fact that some of our schools have as few as three or four pupils, which makes it very difficult to successfully implement collaborative learning techniques such as Curriculum for Excellence.

“It does not change the fact that we have been advised for a number of years by audit and inspection bodies to review our school estate.

“We need to make sure our children and our teachers have access to education techniques which are recognised as best practice for today and tomorrow.”

Bute SNP councillor Robert Macintyre said: “This decision will be a great relief for all the communities who have been affected by the trauma of the last six months.

“The council has finally recognised that the path they were on was the wrong one, and I must give credit to Dick Walsh for recognising this.

“His appeal for co-operation is one we should all listen to; the last six months have seen a bitterly divided council, which is no good for Argyll and Bute.

“The main thing is that the schools that were under threat are now safe.”