Plans for closing 23 schools in the Western Isles over the next eight years were given outline approval by the education committee on Tuesday in one of the most significant reviews of provision ever undertaken by a local authority.
Half the council's primaries will go in three phases. Neil Galbraith, the director of education, warned: "The present situation cannot continue for much longer as the council will simply run out of sufficient resources to maintain all of its schools to the extent that deterioration, resulting in health and safety risks, is liable to enforce closures on an ad hoc basis."
In the 20 years since the council was formed, rolls had "collapsed rather than fallen" with a sharp decline in outlying areas. Primary pupil numbers had plummeted from a peak of 3,865 in 1976 to 2,615 in 1995, a drop of about 32 per cent. In the secondary sector, the decline is around 23 per cent.
Mr Galbraith acknowledged: "The department has been fighting a losing battle for many years to keep pace with demand and every HMI inspection of a school publicly highlights the extent to which the council is falling short of needs in the school sector."
n Up to 11 teachers are to be employed in Aberdeen at an annual cost of o218,000 despite the city's financial crisis. They are needed to meet rising rolls in primaries and to stay within the staffing formula in secondaries.