Western Isles school closures ‘called in’ Further consideration required after flawed consultations

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Ministers have decided to ‘call in’ proposals by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to close two primary schools and end S1/S2 provision at two further schools because of flaws in the Council’s consultation process.

The proposals were part of plans by the council to close a total of eight primary schools and end S1/S2 provision at three.

The proposals that have been called in are:

The closure of Carloway and Shelibost Primary Schools.

The closure of S1/S2 provision at Lionel and Shawbost Schools.

The Council’s decision to close six other primary schools and the S1/S2 provision at another school have not been called in as Ministers considered that the correct process, under the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010, had been followed. Education Secretary Michael Russell said:

“I have taken the decision to call in four of the proposed eleven school closures in the Western Isles.

“Closure decisions must always be taken by those with the best knowledge of local circumstances and who are elected by and accountable to the local community.

“My role is not to retake a democratically taken decision but to ensure that a robust consultation process was properly followed and the educational benefits of these decisions are clear.

“I believe that the council has not properly considered the alternatives to closure, the likely effect on the local community and the transport arrangements in its consultations on these school closures. I therefore believe that the Council’s consultation was flawed.

“I will now carefully consider all cases further and determine whether or not to grant consent to the closures as quickly as possible.”

The Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 sets out factors which councils must have special regard to before consulting on the closure of a rural school, which ensures that the closure of a rural school is a decision of last resort. Ministers concluded that in the case of these four proposals, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar had failed to sufficient consider these facts and that its consultations were therefore flawed.

The Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 established a presumption against the closure of rural schools by ensuring that a decision to consult on a closure proposal can not be made until the local authority has explored all possible alternatives and assessed the likely implications of closure.

A local authority must take 3 factors into account before proposing to close any rural school. These are:

any viable alternative to closure,

the likely effect on the local community if the school were to close

the likely effect of different travelling arrangements occasioned by the closure.

Shelibost Primary School, Isle of Harris:

Ministers concluded that the Council had not had the level of regard to viable alternatives to the closure of this school as is required by the 2010 Act and that the consultation was therefore flawed. In particular, Ministers considered that insufficient consideration had been given to an alternative suggested by the West Harris Trust. Carloway Primary School, Isle of Lewis:

Ministers concluded that the Council had not had the level of regard to the likely effect on the local community of the school’s closure as is required by the 2010 Act and that the consultation was therefore flawed.

S1/S2 at Lionel School, Isle of Lewis:

Ministers concluded that the Council had not had the level of regard to the likely effects of new travel arrangements required by the closure as is required by the 2010 Act and that the consultation was therefore flawed. In particular, they considered that the Council had given insufficient recognition to the effect of the travelling to the Nicolson Institute on younger pupils. Ministers also concluded that the Council had not had the level of regard to viable alternatives to the closure of the secondary provision at Lionel as is required by the 2010 Act and that the consultation was therefore flawed.

S1/S2 at Shawbost School, Isle of Lewis:

Ministers concluded that the Council had not had the level of regard to the likely effects of new travel arrangements required by the closure as is required by the 2010 Act and that the consultation was therefore flawed. In particular, they considered that the Council had given insufficient recognition to the effect of the travelling to the Nicolson Institute on younger pupils. Ministers also concluded that the Council had not had the level of regard to viable alternatives to the closure of the secondary provision at Shawbost as is required by the 2010 Act and that the consultation was therefore flawed.

The primary school proposals not being called in relate to the closure of Balallan, Bragar, Cross, Sandwickhill, Scalpay and Stoneybridge Primaries. The other proposal that is not being called in is the closure of the S1/S2 provision at Daliburgh School. In these cases, the council has fulfilled its obligations under the Schools Consultation (Scotland) Act 2010 and can therefore proceed to implement its decisions to close.