Strong feelings in the Kirk against closing small primaries

29th May 1998 at 01:00
Education has always been close to the heart of the Church of Scotland. The General Assembly last week heard debates on state funding for religious schools, school closures, theological training and university tuition fees. Neil Munro reports

CONTROVERSIES over school closures spilled over on to the floor of the Assembly.

The debate entirely favoured the retention of small rural primaries. It took place on the day before the Accounts Commission published a progress report on surplus pupil capacity, intended to step up the pressure on education authorities to close even more schools (TES Scotland last week).

But Rev Sven Bjarnason, former chair of the school board at Tomintoul Secondary, highlighted the threat to his four year school.

He feared Moray Council would close it in stages after deciding last week to move the third and fourth years to Speyside High.

He denounced this plan which he said would mean a 48-mile round trip for the pupils each day.

"We're not talking about a beautiful spring day in Edinburgh," Mr Bjarnason said. "Our children would have to leave home at 7am and they would not get back until 5pm. Any employer would be prosecuted for operating such hours."

McEwan Harrison, a commissioner from Dunoon, reflected controversies further south when he condemned Argyll Council's closures policy. Kirk sessions and presbyteries should object to school closures, he said.

Rev Alistair Younger, Inverness, pointed to the importance of Church representatives on local authority education committees. At least one Highland primary had been saved in the recent round of closures by the intervention of the Church.

Andrew Blake, the education convener, paid tribute to the work of their representatives on local committees but advised they were "representatives, not delegates".

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