Directors of education in Scotland have told ministers to keep out of decisions over school closures.
If the Scottish Government wants to fulfil its concordat with local government over funding and policy, ministers should relinquish their right to overturn council decisions, the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland has said in its response to the consultation on Safeguarding Rural Schools.
"The proposed closure of a school in any community raises a range of common issues. Therefore, it is suggested that a cost-benefit test, including educational and financial considerations for both the local and wider community, should be applied to all closures, irrespective of location," ADES says in its submission.
The Government's proposal to create a presumption against closure "may make it difficult to bring about changes to provision", they warn. "The general support for communities, rural or urban (whilst welcomed), must never be at the ex- pense of educational quality, breadth of educational opportunity or the educational entitlement of pupils."
The Scottish Government wants to introduce four criteria which must be considered as part of school closure plans: alternatives to closure; likely overall impact on the community; impact on the community's subsequent use of the building facilities and grounds; and impact on travel plans.
However, ADES wants to introduce a further two: that no matter where the school is situated, a review should prioritise the educational impact on the pupils affected; and account should be taken of the wider school estate strategy.
Directors of education, who have campaigned for inspection to be streamlined, also question the Government's plans to increase HMIE's involvement in school closure plans, saying this would mean its "wider intervention in the local authority management of education".
Meanwhile, the Scottish Consumer Council has called for the Government to create a legal framework for a more transparent school closure process. Martyn Evans, director of the SCC, said: "There needs to be much more time given to consultations, and important information should be sent by more reliable means than children's school bags."