The Argyll Rural Schools Network (ARSN) condemns Argyll & Bute Council’s decision on 3rd March to pursue the potential closure of twelve primary schools, most of which are healthy, viable and highly valued by the communities they serve. In particular, ARSN is questioning how this can be reconciled with the Council’s acceptance, as part of the same decision, that schools should only be considered for closure as a last resort, for educational reasons, and with a presumption against closure.
The membership of ARSN are concerned at the lack of transparency in the Council’s approach to selecting schools for the new closure list. During the meeting the Education Spokesperson introduced ‘enhanced criteria’ for selection – in effect moving the goalposts. These criteria still fail to focus on educational benefits as required by the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 and should have been available for everyone to see. Communities now have just three weeks to understand, and respond to, a process that has never been adequately explained.
ARSN members are also puzzled by the Council’s decision to reject the opportunity to delay proceedings until a Scottish Government appointed working group has published revised guidance on school closures. This guidance is scheduled for publication before the end of March.
An ARSN Spokesperson commented: “The Council’s school estate review started a year ago. Given this extended timeframe it seems sensible, and rational, to grant a three week delay to ensure the process takes full account of revised guidance from the Scottish Government. Choosing to pursue this process prior to the publication of the new guidance paints a picture of a Council focusing on school closure rather than consultation.”
- ARSN is a network open to all schools in Argyll and Bute. The Network originally formed as a response to Argyll and Bute Council’s 2010 proposals to close 26 primary schools (one third of all primary schools in the area). The Network successfully campaigned to persuade Argyll and Bute Council to abandon the original proposals.
- ARSN provides a forum for schools to support each other. The current focus is to fight closure proposals, but the Network also wants to support the long term sustainability of rural communities. ARSN believes that communities are only truly sustainable if there is easy access to primary education so that families can feel confident when they chose to move to rural villages and settlements.
ARSN are calling for:
1: All current plans for school closures to be abandoned except where schools are empty
2: Councillors to adopt a policy of a presumption against closure of schools in Argyll and Bute in line with other rural councils and national policy
3: A moratorium on further school closures to give the Council, politicians and the people of Argyll the space to work together to strengthen communities and retain viable, cost effective schools that underpin community life throughout Argyll