Shetland announcement on new school closures raises queries on agreed moratorium and Rural Education Commission report

Shetland Islands Council has announced a programme of specific new rural school closures which appears to boot into touch the Scottish local authorities’ agreement to a moratorium on such closures until Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education in Scotland has reported.

The Commission was set up by the Education Secretary following stormy disputes across Scotland which set parents families and communities against their local authorities.

This dispute was fuelled by a Scottish Government claim that the 2010 Schools Act offered protection against closure as never before to rural schools – through what turned out to be no more than a chimaera, ‘the presumption against the closure of a rural school’.

It was seriously aggravated by the demonstrable inability of the Act and holed below the waterline by erratic and procedurally curious – in one case, bizarre – judgments on called in cases of councils decisions to close a school.

It is correct to say that this period of conflict and upheaval galvanised much of rural Scotland and took to the courts, with a Judicial Review finding in favour of Western Isles Council against the Education Secretary and now under appeal by the Scottish Government.

The Rural Education Commission, as it is known in short form, was asked, in addition to its initial remit, to take on a review and revision of the Schools Act.

It was due to report in August, but with  no announcement that we can discover, has quietly postponed its report, pending the outcome of the Scottish Governments appeal against the High Court judgment in favour of Western Isles Council.

All we can discover is a verbal remark made by the Education Secretary in a reported visit to Shetland at the end of August where he did not associate the appeal with the delay of the Commission’s report but said that he hoped to see the report by ‘the turn of the year’. That will be 2013 then.

In the meantime. what has happened to the local authority moratorium? If it is spent, that should be made public.

Shetland has named the schools it planes to close in 2013 and in 2014.

We note that one of the Shetland primary schools – Burravoe – reprieved by the Education Secretary at call-in in 2011 is to be back in the firing squad in 2014.Will North Bute, Minard, Clachan, and Luss schools, for example, find themselves too back under imminent threat?

This is a nasty and sadistic business which progressively drains the energy of small communities fighting for survival – and does so by intent.

There is no current shelter against such predation.

We need a new culture leading to  new procedures in approaching both sides of the issues in the matter of school closures and in the way final decisions are reached and treated by Scottish Ministers at call-in.

We need the Rural Education Commission to get a move on with its report and like everyone, we will be very keen to see how it deals with the 2010 Schools Act.

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