In the wake of losing a prolonged battle over proposed rural school closures with Western Isles Council in the Court of Session, which he took to appeal and lost again, Education Secretary, Michael Russell MSP, is to make a statement in the Scottish Parliament later today.
He is trailing his intent to assign decisions on the closure of rural schools to an independent body, a move already welcomed by Scottish Rural Schools Chair, Sandy Longmuir.
Mr Russell not only lost the case against Western Isles Council but saw Lady Paton’s markedly lucid opinion at appeal lay down an unarguable interpretation of the provisions of the unable 2010 Schools Act that placed clear responsibilities on the desk of the Education Secretary of the day.
This followed a decision of the Education Secretary in the matter of Hillhead School in Wick, which left the core protective measure in the Schools Act, the primacy in any closure decision of the Educational Benefits Statement, not only disabled but deformed.
This was a matter that the Commission for Rural Education, established by the Education Secretary and making its delayed report recently, had to address. Its approach to the Educational Benefits Statement makes very interesting reading in the light of the crippling legacy of the Wick Determination.
The move to transfer this decision to an independent body would have the additional and politically happy effect of removing any responsibility for unpopular school closure decisions from the Education Secretary of the day. This is a situation which, with the independence referendum on the horizon, the present incumbent in known to favour in general terms, as Argyll has come to understand from the engineered stalemate at Argyll and Bute Council.
We will be reporting later on the Education Secretary’s statement in Holyrood.