We are hearing stories of moves afoot to close schools in Argyll and Bute – and we have already published on Education Director, Cleland Sneddon’s, core strategy for defence in 2013.
He and his department have been working to try to produce evidence to show that the closure of a rural school has no great impact on its community.
This is an arena we will obviously be returning to but for the moment the action elsewhere signals that the forces on both sides are gathering for conflict.
The new SNP administration of Angus Council lost its 15-14 majority and is now a minority administration because of the SNP group’s internal bad faith.
We have published the resignation statement by Councillor Ewan Smith of Angus, where assurances given within the SNP group on what they would and would not do in revisiting the primary school estate were binned in an astonishing volte face, of which more soon.
The effect of this stance is virtually to put the clock back. The lack of fidelity with the electorate which put this party group into power – just – was a long way beyond what Ewan Smith could stomach. He resigned the party whip, is now an independent councillor and intends to stay that way.
Mr Smith fought a doughty – and eventually successful – campaign to prevent the quite unhinged proposal to merge Timmergreens and Muirfield primary schools in a new build on the very edge of the most dangerous road in Arbroath.
This made him well known in Argyll as a fellow spirit during the Argyll Rural Schools Network’s [ARSN] vigorous – and successful – campaigning in the war of the 26 schools set to close in 2010/11, without a competent closure proposal amongst them, even for a school that was already not in use.
Also known in Argyll and to ARSN is Niall Campbell from Baldernock School in East Dunbartonshire, who, having saved his school in a tough confrontation the last time, is back in the jousting lists with East Dunbartonshire Council [EDC] throwing Baldernock open to potential closure yet again.
This council’s proposals for the revision of its primary school estate are full of procedural flaws and are redolent of Argyll and Bute Council’s performance last time around – with inaccurate and doctored figures and concealed information deployed in the appearance of support for the case presented to councillors.
We will be publishing a report on this matter in the early afternoon today, 3rd March.
Argyll’s wake up call
Neither we nor any other medium appear to have heard anything from ARSN for quite a while, but this is a time to wake up, gear up and gird up. They will be hearing what we’re hearing; and proactivity is more effective than defence after the event.
There will be schools that cannot be saved because, in tight times, some commonsense arguments are irrefutable – but there should be few in that category.
With the public impact of its eternal internal upheavals, the council would be advised to keep its focus strictly on no more that the utterly defensible closures.
The Scottish Government theoretically holds to the social and economic importance of rural primary schools – and that position – again theoretically – offers shelter to local schools with small rolls. Such schools, with a roll of 69 or fewer, are additionally and generously subsidised by central government – through the GAE funding mechanism.
We expect the residual cost per pupil to the council in the small schools, relative to the residual cost per pupil in bigger primary schools, to be an issue in the coming conflict.