Saving the rural vote

26th May 2000 at 01:00
THE new agenda for rural Scotland, unveiled this week by the Liberal Democrat Rural Affairs Minister Ross Finnie, turns out to be yet another Executive attempt to bend education to the imperatives of economic progress - while arguing, perish the thought, that it has no intention of treading the path of educational vocationalism or utilitarianism.

The rural school is, as we are so often told, at the heart

of the rural community along with the shop, bank and

post office; closing them "tears the heart out of the community". Clearly, if Mr Finnie's commitment to sustain essential local services in a brave new rural Scotland is to be realised, schools must be preserved - or must they? The minister's document appears curiously ambivalent. Allied to the robust defence of education authorities' duty to review their schools from time to time, expressed recently by Deputy Children and Education Minister Peter Peacock, we are left wondering.

Of course, rural arteries can be blocked by everything from Brussels bureaucrats to Treasury petrol taxes. But public services are in the gift of public servants. So Mr Finnie's first joined-up taskmust be to talk to himself and then to Mr Peacock and other colleagues. The mantra that educational, financial and community factors must be weighed in the balance looks to many parents like a tortuous justification for closure. Labour members on the Parliament's education committee did not desert their ministers on Tuesday (page seven). But, as Fraser Sanderson, director of education in Dumfries and Galloway, points out this week (ScotlandPlus, page four), educational and financial arguments for closure are often marginal, which points invariably to community imperatives.

The answer, for once, may lie south of the border. There the Government, beset by fox-hunting voters and elderly colonels, proudly trumpets the fact that rural school closures are now down to an average of four a year instead of 30 a decade ago. A special pound;40 million fund is being provided over two years to support schools with fewer than 200 pupils. Every little helps. THE TIMES EDUCATIONAL SUPPLEMENT Scott House, 10 South St Andrew Street, Edinburgh EH2 2AZ

Editorial 0131-557 1133; Advertising 0131-557 1144; Fax 0131-558 1155


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