No U-turn on rural closures

28th May 2004 at 01:00
Scotland will not follow England in introducing a presumption against rural school closures and will not tinker with legislation.

Peter Peacock, Education Minister, promised MSPs on the education committee that he would clarify the guidelines for local authorities and parents when he issues a circular in September.

Against a backdrop of closures in Scottish Borders and Midlothian, the minister said the English position was not that schools would not close but that authorities had to make a good case.

"That is what I am saying. You have got to make sure there is a clear case for closure," he said. There would have to be a "high hurdle" and criteria that were understood by everyone involved.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, the Tory spokesman, challenged the "proportionate advantage" rule introduced by Labour in 1998. "In practice, far fewer rural schools are closed in England than in Scotland," Lord James said.

Mr Peacock rejected the suggestion that the loss of a school would rip the heart out of rural communities. Schools tend to follow rather than lead population patterns, he said. It was up to authorities to take a long-term perspective which would inevitably run into parent opposition.

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