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Scotland

The closure of village schools will eventually appear as great an act of vandalism as Beeching's butchery of the railway lines, Mr Ashdown told a meeting of headteachers and governors in Bridgwater, Somerset.

He said the impact of technology and distance learning in the next 10 to 15 years would transform education and the village school will become a vital part of the learning network. "We will have to get rid of the idea of a school being a collection of buildings in bricks and mortar where you go to get education. We are on the cusp of a profound change," he said.

Mr Ashdown said his party was looking closely at home-school links and contracts between parents and the school.

Parents unable to meet their side of the contract would be helped but those who refused would be penalised. The party had looked at the example of some US states where parents who fail to fulfil their responsibilities.

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