Sheriff of Tain to oversee rural education policy review

15th July 2011 at 01:00

A new body to examine rural schools will be chaired by a Highland sheriff whose name will be unfamiliar to the world of education.

David Sutherland, who covers Tain, will review controversial legislation designed to protect rural schools as well as all other aspects of rural education.

Sheriff Sutherland, 60, was educated at Morrison's Academy in Crieff and Edinburgh University, and worked as a solicitor in Inverness for many years before taking up his current role.

He has a relatively low profile in legal circles, but is rated highly for courtesy, attitude, legal ability and efficiency - based on The Firm magazine's most recent survey of sheriffs in 2006 - although he was rated less favourably for compassion, communication and decision-making.

Editor Steven Raeburn said: "When The Firm last undertook its survey of practising sheriffs, members of the legal profession who appeared before him were divided in their views. Some rated (him) extremely highly and extremely consistently, praising him in particular for his positive attitude, efficiency and compassion.

"However, other solicitors who were polled were less fulsome in their praise of his ultimate decision-making, and expressed some reservation about his emotive skills."

A statement on the new commission from Education Secretary Michael Russell, who announced a moratorium on rural school closures shortly after the SNP won May's Scottish elections, highlighted the wider significance of rural education: "Access to high-quality educational opportunities is key to the sustainability of rural communities," he said.

The commission is expected to make recommendations next spring. That timing led Liberal Democrat education spokesman Liam McArthur to question whether the moratorium was "more to do with next May's local elections than the welfare of children in our rural communities".

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