Angus to close rural primaries

Rural primaries with fewer than 20 pupils are likely targets for closure in SNP-run Angus. Twenty schools are operating at less than 60 per cent capacity.

The council hopes to take advantage of the Government's spend-to-save cash to push through closures and amalgamations. A paper approved on Tuesday says the decision to review provision was taken "reluctantly" in view of the evidence on falling pupil numbers.

Angus has defined broad criteria to underpin what it accepts will be an "unpopular" initiative. Closures will be proposed if there are fewer than three or four children at any particular stage. Small classes restrict curricular opportunities and do not allow for the development of personal and social skills, officials say.

Groups of schools within particular areas will be looked at besides individual schools. By closing some, others can be upgraded once Government money is available.

Angus accepts the Accounts Commission's financial arguments for closures and details educational arguments for the first time. It says demands on primaries are "daunting" and that staff need to interact with other teachers regularly. One-teacher schools may lead to a restricted curriculum and can find it difficult to meet the needs of a wide age range.

"There is serious concern at the lack of opportunities for meaningful group work which is at the heart of much of the 5-14 development programme. For instance, how does the teacher in a small school situation deal with strands in English language like listening in groups and talking in groups at appropriate levels for all pupils?" Expressive arts and physical education also suffer, while there are concerns younger children do not receive "appropriate experiences and attention".

Personal and social development of pupils in very small schools is of "most concern" and older pupils may be most affected. "It is also possible that in the situation of a very small school, older pupils can display a tendency to dominate and unwittingly wrest initiative, responsibility and independence from young pupils," the report states.

Children exposed to the same adults in a small community will not have the same level of social interaction as others, Angus argues.

The council accepts transport will be a key aspect of closures and that alternatives have to be available "in close proximity". Community factors will also be important.

"All things considered, there seems little doubt that better value for money and better value for effort could be attained by closing or merging some of the council's smallest primary schools," the report says. Parents and teachers are to be consulted.

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