Western Isles school closures rejected

Four proposed school closures in the Western Isles have been rejected, Education Secretary Michael Russell has announced.

In the first instance of powers under the new Schools Consultation Act being used to prevent closure, Carloway (Lewis) and Shelibost (Harris) Primary Schools will remain open and S1/S2 provision at Lionel and Shawbost Schools in Lewis, both of which had been threatened with closure, will now continue.

The proposed closure of Scalloway Junior High Secondary Department in Shetland has also been called in for further Ministerial consideration, a move which reaffirms the Scottish Government’s commitment to rural schools.

However consent has been given to Moray Council to proceed with the closure of Cabrach Primary School as they have adhered to the process set out within the legislation.

The announcement was made in a statement to Parliament. Mr Russell said:

“This Government is committed to protecting and defending rural schools. We introduced the Schools Consultation Act to improve how communities are consulted on closure plans and ensure that educational benefits are at the heart of all decisions.

“Rural schools are a crucial part of the fabric of education provision in Scotland. Closure should only ever be a last resort and will only be allowed where there are clear educational benefits to pupils. “The evidence shows there are credible alternatives to closure for the four Western Isles schools. The council has failed in its obligation under the Act to show that closing these schools is the last resort, or that there are no viable alternatives. I will not, therefore, allow these schools to close.

SNP MSP for the Western Isles, Alasdair Allan, has called the decision by Education Secretary, Michael Russell, to reject Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s plans for the closure of four island schools “a victory for the community and a statement of confidence in rural schools”.

The decision was announced by the Education Secretary in the Scottish Parliament last night.

Dr Allan commented: “The Education Secretary ‘called in’ the decision by the Comhairle to close the primary schools at Shelibost and Carloway and the S1-S2 units at Lionel and Shawbost, exercising his power to become involved where he believed the Comhairle had failed in its own processes.

“I am delighted that The Education Secretary has now found in favour of all four schools, and has opted to keep them open. Having met with the parent councils and others associated with all four schools, I know just how much these schools mean to some of Scotland’s most fragile rural communities.

“Already people in these areas are celebrating these victories which represent statements of confidence, not just in these four schools, but in rural schools more generally in Scotland. All those who have campaigned for the retention of these schools should be proud of their efforts.

“Regrettably of course it has not been possible for every school to stay open, but in the instances where the Scottish Government had a power to intervene, the right thing was done.”