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Don't romanticise role of rural schools

The village post office is often more important to a community than the primary school, according to a national parents' organisation.

The Scottish Government should not "romanticise" or "overstate" the role that a school plays in the life of a rural village, warns the Scottish Parent Teacher Council - the local shop, post office or village hall is often far more important.

The picture painted by the Government of rural communities actively using local schools as community, sports or leisure centres is "far from the truth" in many areas, it claims in its submission to the Government's consultation on "safeguarding our rural schools".

Schools earmarked for closure often have no hall and "remarkably little" outdoor space. Their doors "can be firmly shut" outwith school hours and during school holidays, due to a lack of janitorial support.

Children are not always best served by keeping small schools open and their education should not take second place to "considerations of community survival", says the Scottish Parent Teacher Council.

Its rival organisation, however, takes the opposite view. The Scottish Parent Council Association (formerly the Scottish School Board Association) likens the effect of school closures on a community to that of post-office closures.

It feels there is a "strong argument" for seeing "any rural school" as a "centre for lifelong education in the community as a whole".

The changes being proposed by the Government would result in a presumption against the closure of rural schools.

In last month's TESS (September 12), Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop argued that local schools were "a crucial part of supporting vibrant local communities" and the impact of a school closure often went beyond "the pupils, staff and parents".

But the SPTC argues a presumption against closure could result in schools being kept open, regardless of the educational needs of pupils. Only three schools a year have been closed in England since the presumption against closure was introduced there in 1998, it notes.

The SPTC nevertheless supports an extension to the list of people who must be consulted - providing it is recognised that "in general people do not like change" and some respondents may not be able to be objective, due to their "emotional involvement with the school".

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