MSPs up in arms on rural closures

30th April 2004 at 01:00
Robert Brown, the normally restrained convener of the Scottish Parliament's education committee, has pledged to give local authorities and ministers "a kick up the pants" over rural closures.

MSPs on Wednesday vented their anger at the increasing number of councils that plan to axe small primaries, often, they claim, for primarily financial reasons.

Closure plans in Midlothian, Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway were cited by MSPs who agreed to summon Peter Peacock, Education Minister, to explain the facts.

As it was, they did not have long to wait since an interrogation on education spending turned into spat on closures.

Mr Peacock promised to review the "test of proportionate advantage" established by Brian Wilson, Labour's education minister, in 1998. Local authorities should still consider that advice when making decisions on closures.

Councils had to make "a balanced judgment" that included any negative effects on the community, Mr Peacock insisted in restating his predecessor's position.

But Rhona Brankin, the Midlothian Labour member who is at odds with her Labour council over its closure programme, appealed for the minister to back the tougher position south of the border where there is a "presumption against rural school closures".

Ms Brankin said: "There is no specific guidance in Scotland on rural schools and that is something that has got to change. Midlothian still has a long way to go to persuade parents that its closure plans are being done for educational reasons."

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, Conservative spokesman, said the number of small rural schools had fallen by 200 in 10 years, "a reasonably fast-moving trend". He, too, favoured the presumption against closures.

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