ADES: closing schools will boost rural education

13th January 2012 at 00:00
Reducing numbers in given areas can make overall provision more viable, it claims

Local authority bosses have come up with a plan to strengthen rural education - by closing more rural schools.

The Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES) argues that "maintaining artificially high numbers of rural schools in an area has a detrimental impact on all local rural schools. Reducing the number of schools in a given area can actually make overall provision more viable".

The ADES submission to the Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education also claims that some schools are rarely used outwith school hours.

"The buildings are closed and unused for 13 weeks of the year, without any impact on the community in which they are located," it states.

"In some cases, schools on the outskirts of towns have been kept viable by pupils subject to placing requests who have no association with that community."

ADES argues, too, that small schools restrict pupils' experience of working with a broad range of peers and "limit their social development".

ICT can only go so far in making up for the restrictions of learning in a rural school, the statement says.

Education directors are unhappy, too, with a consultation process on closures that can last six months. They claim it is "very consuming of council time" and that legislation "favours rural schools over urban schools".

The ability of ministers to call in a proposed closure for reconsideration is questioned: ADES proposes an independent adjudicator instead, so that the process is not determined by "subjective ministerial interpretation".

The ADES rationale that closing schools could boost rural education was dismissed as a misleading "generalisation" by Sandy Longmuir, chair of the Scottish Rural Schools Network.

While there may have been some grounds to that argument many years ago, he argued, there had been so many school closures in recent decades that it was very rare to have two schools sitting close to each other in rural area.

In an area such as Argyll and Bute, where rural school closures have been a contentious issue in recent times, schools were more likely to be 12-15 miles apart, he said.

Some local authorities' agenda on school closures obscured the fact that, thanks to compensatory payments for each pupil in a small school, it could actually cost more to close schools than keep them open, he added.

The limited use of school buildings was another red herring, in Mr Longmuir's eyes. Often, while the school itself might not be used frequently, a nearby village hall was the focal point for much activity; when the school closed, history suggested that the village hall was often not far behind.

He was also sceptical about the socialisation argument against small schools, pointing to consistent evidence that home-schooling did not impair social development.

henry.hepburn@tess.co.uk

Leslie Manson, p35.

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