Holyrood makes it more difficult for councils to close rural schools

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Changes to the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 that strengthen the protection for rural schools threatened with closure, came into effect on Friday.

Introduced through the Children and Young People Act in February, the changes will require local authorities to carry out more rigorous consultations on all school closures, but in particular on rural schools.

The new requirements are a result of the report from the Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education which recommended the Scottish Government should clarify the presumption against closure for rural schools and school consultations must reach higher standards. It will also mean that new evidence must be provided before proposing a rural school for closure, and that all consultations must include accurate and clear information, including costs, in the proposals to close a school.

Under the new regulations, communities will also have a right to challenge any inaccuracies in council proposals and if a school closure is rejected, it will be protected from closure for five years.

Minister for Learning Alasdair Allan said: “I am delighted that we have achieved our commitment to strengthen the rights of communities in relation to school closure proposals. In addition to providing important safeguards for rural schools, these changes will ensure that consultation is genuine and based on accurate information.

“Rural schools are at the heart of many of our communities in Scotland and the new legislation will give them greater protection and require councils to undertake more careful consideration before they can propose closure.

“Clearly, local authorities are best placed to consider how to deliver services across their communities and sometimes it is necessary to close a school. However, the new legislation will strengthen parents’ and pupils’ rights to clear information when these decisions are being considered.”