Russell to make parliamentary statement on rural schools today

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.

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33 Responses to Russell to make parliamentary statement on rural schools today

  1. Now Newsie – you DID write this. Your fractured, tortured prose is quite unmistakable.

    However, it was interesting to read in Today’s Oban Times a letter suggesting that small, under-occupied, expensive, rural school that are not isolated should be reviewed for closure. The argument being made is that there needs to better management of resources to benefit everyone – “Our viable primary schools need to be properly funded. Our high school requires proper staffing”.

    May you live in interesting times…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

    • I write a maximum of 40% of the content of For Argyll and I edit all of it. [And I do not see typos until it's too late, even using the spellchecker as last ditch proofer.]
      ‘Newsroom’, as we make quite clear, covers all of the contributors, including myself, who provide our general content and some features. Other features have individual bylines.
      It is probably safe to assume that everything you – and many others – really dislike will be written by me, since my job is commentary, editorial content and research.
      If anyone asks, I have no reason not to say whether or not I have written a particular piece. And yes, I wrote this one; and another in the pipeline with the text of Mr Russell’s parliamentary statement and our commentary on it.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

      • Your opinion, generally political, is going to be divisive regardless, and is what many of us “really dislike”.
        Well researched factual information is greatly appreciated.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 5

        • Our opinion is always backed up by exactly the sort of evidence you wish to see – statistics, systems, practical realities – but people find it hard to recognise evidence when the story it tells is not what they wish to see.
          It is necessary to understand that it is these very facts that have led us to change our own view of the cost/benefit of independence. We did not start from a contrary view and in that sense our current stance is not ‘political’. It is simply rational.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

          • This proves exactly what we’re saying. Uncomfortable evidence is never accepted but simply air brushed out with accompanying and unevidenced abuse.
            This modus operandi is another real obstacle to supporting the independence proposition.
            It offends responsibility and intelligence to try to sell something of this gravity and complexity as easy-peasy.
            The response to any and every difficulty is always first to rubbish it, then to say we’ll either continue to use the UK system – invariably without having consulted the UK government; or suggest grandly that Scotland will continue to work with the UK on the delivery of ‘X’ – like defence and intelligence.
            This procedure cumulatively betrays two things:
            - there are no answers;
            - ‘independence’ would be minimal, nothing more that cosmetic, with powers we already have but do not use – like tax raising powers; and powers we will get anyway – like borrowing.
            It remains indefensible that a local authority may borrow but a government – from which the local authority receives its budgetary allocations – may not.
            Infusing every dismissal of difficulties is the imputation that seeing, demonstrating and raising such issues is ‘anti-Scottish’.
            How is it ‘Scottish’ to blindfold people before you buy their vote and take their country into something where the cost even of setting it up will be massive in money and disruption; and the benefit little more than flying a single and different flag?
            And we did not start with this perspective. We have come to realise it through research and evidence.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  2. “Our viable primary schools need to be properly funded. Our high school requires proper staffing” proper management does not need extra funding, should we not start there and then move onto the funding issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  3. The statement and the Government response to the Commission report make pleasant reading for any schools campaigner. Given the effort that Cosla, Ades, Solace et al put into scuppering the intention of the original act I put this down as a resounding win for SRSN and ARSN.

    The cost of small schools was a matter of considerable debate but there was eventually agreement that rural authorities are compensated for the challenges of rurality. The value of those schools is less easily calculated but there is no dispute that it exists.

    The Commission also looked at the challenges of rural secondaries and it is now apparent that these are being noted and addressed in several ways. Judging by what appears to be happening in Oban it’s not before time!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 4

    • Campbeltown is a buzz with the news that yet more pupils already attending and children due to start school at Southend Primary School this autumn are being placed at schools in Campbeltown by their parents .
      It appears that an increasing number of parents in the Southend area are deciding that having their children in classes of one or two pupils is against the interests of their offspring and are voting with their feet .
      How a community campaign to preserve the school can be successful when it cannot convince a growing number of parents in it’s own community to commit to it suggests that parents are doing politicians’ job for them and that the days of this school are numbered .

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

      • Don’t take this as an argument against rural schools – which it is not.
        There is, though, a very real argument about the relative educational and social value of classes as small as one or two.
        In being in favour of rural schools, it is still important not to lose sight of good judgement, Nothing is, per se, the right or wrong provision. There’s no formula. It’s a question of context – and there does have to be a point where the best use of available money really is an issue.
        The issue centres on an honest examination and presentation of the facts – and of proposed solutions – by all concerned, with no cooking of the books and with due scrutiny to encourage integrity.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

        • Nothing is ever simple and newsroom should adopt a similar attitude with The independence debate also . Then we might get reasonable and acurate disoiurse about all sorts of issues.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

      • The peer-group argument really only comes into play in the tiniest schools. People who talk about ‘classes of 1 or 2′ are perhaps not familiar with the way that small schools work – such a situation would only occur in a school with 1 or 2 pupils in total.

        In the more typical situation the kids of all ages are taught together in one or two groups. Obviously they each work at their own level, and teaching staff need to develop specific methods – which they seem to do very successfully. The kids benefit from working with older & younger peers which is in any case a key principle of the Curriculum for Excellence.

        I don’t know the current situation at Southend, but I doubt it is down to 1 or 2 pupils.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

        • I doubt it very much too , however I don’t need any lectures on the working of small rural schools , having attended one for seven years .
          While it is quite possible to have friends and work together happily with older and younger pupils , what happens when the child goes to Secondary School ? He/she goes alone not knowing anyone , is amongst people who have their friends of seven years and will forever be an outsider , is likely to be poor at team sports having never experienced a proper same aged team .
          The parents opting to send their children to larger schools are doing so for the best of reasons and should not be judged for so doing .

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5

          • To my knowledge nobody is judging parents for their choices but isn’t it wonderful that they still have that choice?

            ARSN has gone on record many times to say that they are not blanket opposed to school closures, just opposed to closures which do not provide an educational benefit and which are progressed without the interests of the children at their root.

            Parents and grand parents will always put what they believe their children’s best interests are first (and rightly so) and it was one of many insulting slurs made by ABC during the closures issue that this was not the case.

            Luss is a prime example of a school with a small number of pupils in a small number of classes which thrives educationally, and there are no signs that its pupils are suffering form the issues you mention Islay (however that doesn’t mean it might not be an issue elsewhere). Didn’t stop ABC insinuating that rural schools can produce ‘socially dysfunctional’ children.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  4. “…there was eventually agreement that rural authorities are compensated for the challenges of rurality.”

    Spot on – as we clearly showed was the case in Argyll.

    This is one of the reasons why the reasonable-sounding but false assumption that closing rural schools saves lots of money is nonsense. The other key reason is the sky-high and increasing cost of transporting children from one community to another and back every day of the school year.

    These factors were always clearly there in the evidence right from the start, as demonstrated time & again by SRSN who must surely now feel thoroughly vindicated.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  5. Mr Sneddon will need to complete a standardised financial statement on any closures he decides to put up against the new guidance, so no more rigging the figures to manipulate the outcome.

    Maybe we should get him to complete this for everything he tries to shut.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

    • Mr Sneddon attended the Oban High School Parent Council meeting, attended late, did not appologise then walked out before the subject of underfunding of High School took place. Oban getting new High School, £30 million cost, statics, lies and dam lies. Maths, under funding per child £2000 per year compared with a Stirling postcode. Highly paid senior officials and politicians are playing games with our children’s futures. The ground work is being set to get rural communities to fight against urban communities. Not a chance.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

      • John

        I certainly hope you are right about urban and rural communities not turning on each other. During the previous schools campaign it was staggering how many Helensburgh people were adamant the schools should close (often without ever having bothered to even read the reports or make any effort to ascertain any facts).

        The tired, somewhat idiotic, and entirely incorrect argument about rural children getting a private school education and the even more ridiculous one about rural communities bleeding the urban ones of funds was trotted out time and time again.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

    • Well said this is the way forward in Argyll for all sorts of issues. The sooner this council bunch gets it sorted, that one solution does not fit all, the better. The difference in each of our communities is fundamental and unique solutions to each case, wether Struan Lodge or a remote or island school needs a bespoke solution taking a wider range of circumstances into consideration. Great result at the Adult care Committee meeting Heard that Roddy Mccuish voted for new admissions and led from the front. but Sally Loudon, Ellen Morton and James Robb were not happy at all. No surprise There?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. John, Integrity, the redundancy of the urban/rural argument was recognised by the Commission. It’s an excuse used in various scenarios without any recognition that the funds “saved” are not being redistributed. ARSN worked out that if all the projected savings were realised and reinvested it would mean 2p per pupil annually to all the other schools. Hardly a bonanza.

    The only way forward is for all the schools to work together to challenge the many myths that surround the financing of education in rural areas. Helensburgh need to join in. The nonsense idea that they contribute more is based on a very simplistic view of finance that bears no relation tp reality. If they understood how much of the block grant was attracted by our remote communities they might think better about closing the rest of us down.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

    • This is a shamefully mischievous argument designed to support the SNP party political line which the substantial majority of its own councillors – 9 out of 11 – reject; and to do so by fostering the division between Argyll and Bute’s four administrative areas that the drivers of the SNP civil war found it useful to create.
      Trying to harden up the blame game on Helensburgh is another way of playing the man and not the argument.
      The issue is whether political decisions are made for the good of Argyll and Bute as a whole – or in the traditional pic’n'mix disbursement of favours to particular areas, usually to the ones that shout loudest.
      What we are now seeing is the move from the vicious demonising of individuals to the demonising of an entire area.
      Helensburgh undoubtedly contributes substantially to Argyll – and if you would like to enter into and sustain a serious and informed debate on economics, let’s hear you.
      Picking on Helensburgh with accusations of self-interested isolationism ignores utterly the situation where Dunoon is perfectly prepared to see elderly care throughout the rest of Argyll suffer, provided it can keep open a care home which for some time has had a single digit number of residents.
      We have ALL to find the will to move beyond this entrenched self-centredness and act in the interests of the greater good.
      With this nasty little comment, we appear to be looking at a political prospectus where the union within Argyll and Bute is every bit as unwelcome to SNP activists as is the union within the UK.
      So if we keep on reducing the boundaries of the holy land, where will it stop? St Kilda? Now that really is the exemplar of why ‘ourselves alone’ is ultimately inadequate.
      Eventually this frightful schismatism you display stops at the skin of the individual and amounts to nothing more than a self-satisfied, narcissistic campaign against everything beyond that personal border.
      The best in life, at all levels, comes from teamwork – and no one imagines that teamwork is feel-good easy – just massively rewarding if you make it work.
      It ought also to be noted that your own party hierarchy’s instruction to its locally elected representatives, actively removes the opportunity for the majority of Helensburgh councillors to ‘join in’ – unless, of course, your vision of ‘joining in’ is agreeing to what is promulgated in the SNP’s version of ‘the big house’, with plenty of cap doffing.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5

      • What absolute hogwash You live in a parallel existence and yes I have been to St Kilda.. It is time you has a reality check. What you do not know you invent. You think that your opinion on anything is the only correct version. Delusional. You need to concentrate on facts not dream up emotive nonsense on a continual basis.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

    • newsroom – could you not maybe confine your hair-trigger anti-SNP rants to the threads where they are at least vaguely relevant? The schools issue was always largely and commendably non-party-political and for you to suddenly take a hissy fit against one of ARSN’s most committed campaigners and member of the Rural Education Commission, for absolutely no apparent reason, is not only bizarre and irrational but, in your own words, pretty personal and vicious.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4

      • This was a RESPONSE to a party political slanting of the issue – scoring points in an internal SNP turf war which should never have happened, was consciously manipulated, and has divided a party I voted for and was a member of until relatively recently – when I stopped my subscription in a mixture of anger, despair – and contempt – at what was and is – being done to hopes for better governance in Argyll and Bute.
        You might also reflect upon the contradictions inherent in approving of For Argyll for being straight speaking when it suits one agenda and condemning it when what it says – equally objectively, is less comfortable.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  7. I don’t live in Dunoon and was following from Integrity’s comment about things that were said during the school closure fiasco. There was a definite divide in perception between Helensburgh and the rest of A&B which is why I said it needed to join in. The one Helensburgh SNP councillor at the time was one of the few to understand GAE and I have never heard him suggest the rest of A&B was less entitled to services.

    Nonetheless, I have heard other Helensburgh councillors repeat this myth that they pay for rural Argyll and it is time we dealt with that and built a more unified region where divides between urban and rural are no longer used as tools by council officers wishing to close things.

    What is shameless is that even where we try to discuss schools and the need for collective action you can skew it to your peculiar obsession. How this will help rural schools or Oban High I know not. Nor will it help to point out the SNP among schools activists who came from other parties or had no politics at all. In that context we put our badges to one side.

    As for my party, its councillors, its members, its structure, you clearly know nothing about it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 5

    • In the circumstances of the destructions of the SNP councillors group in the last 12 months, you can hardly expect credibility elevating the importance of ‘collective’ action?
      Being ‘collective’ when it suits one to harvest support from others it not what collectivity or collegiality is about.
      And many in Argyll now know more than enough about your party, its councillors, its members, its structures and its wonderfully elastic ‘rules’.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  8. Islay, it’s not the buzz in Southend. The school remains a vibrant part of the community and the kids I helped out with at St Columba’s footprint last week were having a whale of a time with a teacher they clearly love. The one parent I know of who moved her child did so in the wake of the consultation having swallowed the line peddled by so called experts that large peer groups were essential for delivery of the Curriculum for Excellence.

    Having taken part in the Commission I can vouch for the fact that small schools deliver CfE very well and are often leaders in this sector. Argyll & Bute contains some of these leaders and award winners, two of which were up for closure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

    • Anne , I thought that living in Southend , you’d be more in touch with the goings on at the primary school .To talk of one parent and her child is either deliberately misleading or you are unaware of the children who will be absent from the school when it resumes after the summer .
      Can you tell us out of interest , how many people are employed at the school and how many pupils there are at present ? I am told there are ten employees .

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  9. My reference to Helensburgh appears to have sparked something it was never meant to spark.

    It was a source of frustration for ARSN that the argument was constantly put forward that rural schools, and rural children, were somehow overly privileged, yet the lack of other council services in rural areas conveniently ignored.

    However none of us would have ever entertained the idea of turning the table and, for example, advocating closing or amalgamating urban schools, even if the proposal could have been put forward using the same flawed arguments as ABC used to close the rural ones.

    Tim is right to say that ARSN wasn’t political. There were a few blinkered individuals on here who, as soon as an ARSN member supported local schools, instantly assumed we were Mike Russell’s sheep however it was normally by people with a limited understanding of the issue at hand.

    Anne is right to say that Helensburgh need to join in, and she knows full well that so do Dunoon, Oban, Luss, Barcaldine etc etc – all she was doing was responding to my reference to Helensburgh (which I made purely because it was the urban area I am most associated with). It was not the demonisation of an area but a call for us to cast off these stupid idea that rural and urban areas can’t work in co-operation with each other.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  10. Well Lynda, all I can do under the circumstances is wish you well and give up on you. The people I work with, whether in the SNP or not, know where my heart is and that’s good enough for me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  11. In my opinion the council is ours, too many senior officials and councillors forget that and treat it as their own private company. I have no problems with people who work hard to build up their own businesses, they have my respect. The only way forward is to open up our council to make it open and transparent, in the age of computers the cost of open accounting is small, why is so much hidden from the public. Whats to hid and fear.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

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