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Battle to rescue country schools

Two topical issues came together last week when protesters against the closure of rural schools took their case to the public petitions committee of the Parliament. They called on the MSPs to press the Scottish Executive to introduce a "legislative presumption" against rural school closures, as exists in England.

The Executive is opposed to such a move, but the committee agreed to ask Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, how the guidance he has already issued on school closures is being implemented and monitored.

The petitioners also want Mr Peacock to meet the newly formed Rural Schools Network.

They say 68 rural schools have come under threat of closure since Mr Peacock issued his new guidelines on school closures. These have been in Moray, Aberdeenshire, Angus, Fife, Midlothian and the Borders. Many have been as a result of investment packages developed for the school estate as part of councils' public private partnership (PPP) programmes Sandy Longmuir, one of the leaders of the network, believes the number of schools under threat could be greater because, in the Borders, schools are to be automatically reviewed when they hit one of a number of "trigger factors." Three primaries closed last week. Campaigners there claim reviews could begin in 27 Borders schools as a result. There are also fears there could be "more to come" in the form of closures in Angus.

"Boy, do we need the presumption," Mr Longmuir said.

The network has had at least one victory - a decision by Aberdeenshire Council to retain the threatened Longhaven primary, near Peterhead.

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