Educational benefit must be key consideration of school closure decision making process, says Education Minister

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Educational benefit must remain a key consideration of the school closure decision making process, Education Secretary Michael Russell said today (Thursday).

The Scottish Government’s formal response to the Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education report has been made in the Scottish Parliament, with the vast majority of the report’s recommendations accepted.

However, recommendation 20, to lessen the need to show education benefit in the consideration of a school closure, was not accepted. The Scottish Government and COSLA will work closely together on how to reduce the number of call-in requests and explore options in the coming weeks on how to ensure the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 is working effectively, including the possibility of final decisions being taken independently.

The Education Secretary said: “I am very grateful for the work of the Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education. By working closely with local government, I will be taking the steps necessary to implement the vast majority of them through a mixture of administrative and legislative change to ensure the policy Parliament intended when it unanimously passed the 2010 Act is effectively delivered.

“I intend to use the Children and Young People Bill to bring forward any legislative changes required to the Act and there will also be further guidance to improve the understanding of the process. However, I am absolutely determined that educational benefit should remain an important part of any proposal and so will not implement the Commission’s recommendation to change the need to show educational benefit. That principle remains key to the Scottish Government and is vitally important to many local communities throughout Scotland.

“Furthermore, I believe that we need to look again at the call-in system. The processes set out in the 2010 Act were intended to ensure that call-in was a last resort, but COSLA and ourselves have acknowledged that there have been just too many which is neither helpful nor sustainable. We will look again together at how we can reduce this number and how Education Scotland can play an enhanced role in the process. Where a proposal does need to be called in, I also feel that the decision on whether to give consent or not to the closure needs to be taken independently of Ministers, and we will work closely with COSLA to develop further thinking on the best mechanism to deliver this.”