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Rural closures plan 'does not add up', warns Cosla

The Education Secretary's moratorium on rural school closures "does not add up" in financial terms, local authorities warned this week.

Pat Watters, president of the councils' umbrella body Cosla, also said Michael Russell had failed to consult councils over his plans for a year- long moratorium on school closures and the creation of a Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education.

The leader of Argyll and Bute Council, Dick Walsh, said the proposal raised the "obvious question" of how to finance it.

"If this is a Scottish Government policy, then the Cabinet Secretary needs to give Scotland's local authorities clarity regarding whether there's likely to be any additional funding which will enable councils to protect their education budgets," said Mr Walsh. His council sought this year to close 26 of its 80 primary schools and later cut the hit-list to 12.

John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, warned that every small school kept open cost three teachers' jobs elsewhere in the authority.

"Most decisions in education are about a balance between rights of an individual or a few against all of the people educated in that area. School closure is a classic example of that," he added.

Nevertheless, Mr Russell's proposal would allow everyone to take stock. "If there is a very strong political commitment to protect rural schools - which clearly there is - it will give us the chance to ask, `What does that mean in terms of resources?'" said Mr Stodter.

Mr Russell said his decision had been prompted by differences in the way councils had interpreted the Schools Consultation Act, which introduced new guidance on school closures.

"These differences have resulted in the original intentions of the Act - that the educational, not financial, benefits should be the main consideration - not always being followed," he said.

A one-year moratorium would allow for a "comprehensive and fair assessment" of the closures process, he added.

A new Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education will be asked to review the legislation and make recommendations on the delivery of education in rural areas. It will also look at innovation and the link between rural education and rural regeneration.

Ken Macintosh, Labour's shadow education secretary, said local authorities and parents needed clarity on the issue; the last SNP Government had introduced the school closures legislation and it was clearly not working.

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