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Education Secretary feels rural school cut

The highly-charged issue of rural school closures struck home for the Education Secretary this week, when Argyll and Bute Council announced plans to close 26 primaries - including one run by his wife.

The defence of rural schools has been a flagship policy of the Scottish National Party and Michael Russell announced stricter criteria for closure plans earlier this month.

But the announcement on Tuesday by Argyll and Bute Council that it wants to close nearly a third of its primaries is likely to thrust the issue even further up the political agenda.

The council aims to cut 15 per cent of its budget over the next three years - almost pound;15 million from education. The estimated savings from the merger programme are almost pound;2 million.

The council's executive committee will hold a meeting next week to discuss the plans to reduce its 80 primary schools to 54, by amalgamating the 26 earmarked for closure into 20 receiving schools.

The pupil roll across these 26 schools is 534. Numbers range from no pupils at St Kieran's in Campbeltown and Ardchonnel, one at Skipness and five at Ardchattan to 85 at Rosneath. The cost of educating each pupil at Ardchattan is just over pound;22,000, and nearly pound;114,000 for the one at Skipness.

A council spokeswoman said a review, initiated in May, had revealed that 59 per cent of the council's primary schools were less than half full.

"Similar rural council areas only have an average of 29 per cent of schools less than half-full," she said.

Cleland Sneddon, executive director for community services, said: "Education accounts for more than one-third of the council's budget. If we don't make savings in our education service, we will have to make bigger savings from other services."

Toward Primary, led by Cathleen Russell, has a roll of 20 pupils and is down to merge with Innellan. However, her post is currently being advertised on a temporary basis, as she moves to acting head of Sandbank Primary from November 1, following the retirement of its headteacher.

Mr Russell said: "I want local authorities to consider all alternatives to closure that might come from communities themselves."

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