I find it difficult to imagine anything
more unambitious, and indeed pathetic than that. Primary
class sizes in Scotland are already amongst
the highest in Europe
, is just about everyone else
out of step except us? This is out of the same small minded
myopic mindset that gave us the "best
small country in the world"
mentality. And with
this new New Labour doctrine, you have to wait until you
find the pupils are failing in your system before
do anything about it, and then you try to make up for
just those worst-case failures your own system has produced?
If the problems are remedial, they should not have
been allowed to happen in the first place
. And they
may only be the most visible indications of the adverse
effects of large class size that helped create or hide
them, many more children may fail to realise their potential
that do not qualify for later remedial help. That is one
of the crucial reasons why you should have small classes
sizes in the first three years of primary school for all,
so you don't have to try to remedy your own failures of
"poorly performing pupils" later. And the evidence
on small class sizes
(also see panel on right) is
that not only can they prevent the need for expensive
remedial support later, such later remedial support may
be ineffective or only partially effective because once
pupils have lost pace with their peers in the crucial
first three years, it can be very difficult or impossible
to catch up - quite apart from the socially and educationally
divisive issue of taking them out of class for "special
I have had two children go through primary
school and Ms Alexander has not. I have read the research,
but I presume Ms Alexander has not. Ms Alexander is
leader elect of a part of Scottish Labour and I am not,
but if this is indicative of the kind of policies that
her "New Labour, new strategy" is going to
espouse, then I am glad she is a member of New Labour
and I am not.
posted 8th July 2007: The
Minister showed she was serious (see post immediately
below for 24th June) with the decision
to not sanction the closure of Glentrool School
in the Borders. I can just see the civil servants muttering
"Yes Minister.. a courageous decision if I may
so...." The local MSP Alasdair Morgan said
"Clearly the minister has taken the view that
the council were being rather short-sighted.... Instead
of pulling up the drawbridge they are going to have
to see what they can actually do to make Glentrool the
kind of place that can support a school."
Exactly. Schools as an integral part of
the community and part of local economic and social
development? Who'd have thought it. In fairness to at
least one previous minister, Peter Peacock, I think
he thought so too, though I doubt he had the support
of his party or the civil servants on school closures.
Fiona Hyslop has the support of her party but still
deserves full credit for her detemined start on this.
Now most of what she has to worry about comes in the
form of these helpful civil servants .....
posted 24th June 2007: As
the new Scottish Minister of Education made clear recently
in an answer to a parliamentary question, the government
is committed to a "presumption against closure"
Schools S3O-2 - Elizabeth Smith
(Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con) : To ask the
Scottish Executive how it proposes to take forward the
commitment to protect rural schools from closure and
what action it will take to assist those schools at
Answered by Fiona Hyslop (31 May 2007): We
have made clear our commitment to introduce a presumption
against the closure of rural schools and shall be considering
further the detailed implications of taking that forward.
We shall also take this into account in our consideration
of decisions on any rural school closure proposals which
may require ministerial consent.
There have been dramatic changes over the past few
months in this context. Previously, for the reasons
which are outlined in the various blogs below in some
detail, there has been what was effectively a "presumption
favouring closure" for many schools in Scotland.
But it is not just the fact that the new government
is committed to finding ways to put a presumption against
closure into practice that may help save some Scottish
schools from closure. At least three other influences
which have only emerged as potential issues recently
may help stem these pressures. One is the significant
influx of young workers with families from Eastern bloc
countries which have recently joined the EU, and which
are leading to significant increase in schools enrolment
in some cases. The Guardian gave
the example in November of the roll of one Scottish
primary school which grew by 25% in the previous year,
with most of those pupils coming from accession states,
The second influence which has emerged is the SNP Executive's
commitment to small class sizes, particularly in P1
to P3. As I have noted elsewhere in these pages, one
of the adverse effects that typically follow from achools
closure is increase in class sizes - not just for pupils
for schools being closed, but also for those recipient
schools to which the pupils are moved. So we have the
prospect of a presumption against school closure being
reinforced by a parallel policy against increasing class
sizes (especially if this leads to classes over 18 for
P1 to P3).
The third influence is the changing face of local councils
since the May elections. A recent Times Education Supplement
Scotland article stated: "John Stodter, general
secretary of the Association of Directors of Education
in Scotland, predicted that education could bind the
new coalition administrations, given widely-shared attitudes
to issues such as improving early years, reducing class
sizes and investment in school buildings. The future
of rural schools may prove more contentious, however.
"I think it's going to be more difficult to close
small schools," said Mr Stodter. "People who
have been in opposition in the past have made some gain
out of opposing rationalisation programmes."
Clearly different schools and different areas may be
affected differently by these two possible influences.
But one thing can be said for certain, in general public
opinion against school closures is going to find increasing
support from changes at political (local and national)
and demographic levels. These elements all help to further
discredit the Accounts Commission / Audit Scotland capacity-based
analysis and advice in this area (see top of panel on
right), an approach which had no sound analytical foundations
even when it was first formulated and implemented. The
sooner the spare capacity indicators forming the basis
of Accounts Commission policy advice in this area are
abandoned, the better.
posted 23rd June 2007:
it is sad and frustrating that certain individuals are
given a license and platform to speak on policies and
issues in this area when they are clearly misinformed
or badly informed, and in turn may misinform the public.
The spokesperson for the Scottish Parent Teacher Council
(SPTC), said about the Executive's policy to reduce
class sizes to a maximum of 18 P1 to P3 in the
Scotsman June 21st : "Whilst a reduction
in class sizes is good for teachers, it is not clear
to me it has the same benefits for pupils". If
someone is going to pronounce on these issues from a
position of influence on these issues, they have at
least a responsibility to be aware of the research in
these areas. She could make a start by reading some
of the research under "Economics of Class Size"
in the panel on the right. This
is the same person who as spokesperson for SPTC stated
in the context of school closures: "Children
would get a much better education if they were taught
in a larger primary with better resources than a much
smaller one" (The Herald 29th September
2005). Why? Again, where is the evidence? And
who is she speaking for? If the "Scottish Parent
Teacher Council" is supposed to represent parents
and teachers, its spokesperson certainly seems to have
a curious way of protecting and representing parents
or teachers (or, most importantly, pupils') interests
- by arguing against small schools and small classes.
posted 22nd June 2007:
How to make a difference in Scottish education: start
Start early in school years; my piece
on the bar on the right "the Economics of Class
Size" shows the importance of getting class sizes
down to 18 or less in the first three early years of
Start early in political years; the current
SNP Executive started early on this issue in 2002. The
current Minister for the Environment Mike
Russell when he was opposition Education Spokesperson
in the Scottish Parliament outlined the party's policy
on class sizes - nearly five years ago. The formulation
and imminent implementation of this policy is a model
of how such processes should be carried out.
First, Mike Russell appointed people to
his policy Advisory Group for what they knew and not
for who they were, and also not every person was a member
of his political party. I know, because I was a member
of that group. It is nice to see Gordon Brown currently
trying to pursue similar inclusive policies for a government
of all the talents, albeit with much less success to
Second, policy was formulated from the
bottom up and grounded in actual experience (especially
teachers) of those who Mike consulted in the Advisory
Group. When asked what members of the group would like
to see as SNP education policy and would make a diference
to education in Scotland, the unifying policy was small
Third, the resulting policy was evidence-based.
I played a small part in this by doing a survey on the
economics of class sizes for Mike's group which recommended
a class size max of 18 for P1 to P3 . It was a small
part because any reasonably competent researcher would
quickly have come up with the same conclusions I came
up with (this was the "summary I did in 2002"
referred to in the panel on the right). The truth was
out there if you just knew where and how to look.
Fourth, test for public opinion which
was found to be strongly in favour. As Mike Russell
in 2002, a poll conducted by the party across Scotland
showed 81 per cent of people believed that the policy
would improve education.
Fifth, get the party around the policy.
It became a flagship policy for the party in the 2003
So that is how to generate a robust, cost-effective
popular policy that will contribute to both economic
growth and favour those who are economically and socially
However, generating the policy was only
the start. What has been impressive is the way that
the policy has been carried forward and sustained with
commendable force and consistency through all the intervening
years in opposition and now into government. John Swinney,
Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond have all led and pushed
this policy from leadership positions within their party.
Now Fiona Hyslop the new Education Minister is putting
into practice. And she is doing it with reference
to the same evidence-based principles that informed
the policy in the first place, emphasising both the
research on sustained gains in attainment for small
class sizes in the early years, and also highlighting
the need for "councils to focus these additional
resources on deprived areas - where international research
evidence indicates the greatest benefits will come'"
It was also recognised by the new minister
that three major categories of resources are needed
to make this work; more teachers, more and different
physical capacity - and time. To these three categories
of resource might be added a fourth - political will,
especially at local level. All this will not happen
overnight but will be a staged process taking some years.
The important thing that the policy has moved from the
formulation stage to implementation. That is where the
devil may lie, but is also where the opportunities may
be found to profoundly and permanently improve educational
achievement, economic growth and social opportunities
For the Ministerial statement (20th June)
on how this policy will be pursued, see here
posted 1st January 2007:
The background for the HMIe
report referred to in the blog for 27th December
below is perhaps clarified to some extent in the context
of a Memorandum
of Understanding between Audit Scotland and HMIe;
"HMIE will consult with Audit
Scotland in planning of thematic inspections that may
involve value for money studies of aspects of education.
Audit Scotland will consult with HMIE on its VFM studies
programme and statutory performance indicators".
In principle, it looks a two-way street interaction.
In practice, the influence will flow from Audit Scotland
to HMIE. Audit Scotland have the 60% capacity rule (see
Commission and School Closures) to throw at HMIE
in favour of school closures. What does HMIE have to
counter this (assuming they want to) other than a series
of disconnected observations, experience, hunches etc
As long as you assume the quantitative 60% rule is
sound, Audit Scotland have the high ground in this "partnership".
If I were to argue that 60% of auditors were crooks
and you were to argue that no, based on your observatons,
experience and hunches you think most of them were honest,
my argument would win so long as the validity and foundations
of this particular 60% rule was not questioned. Quantitative
beats qualitative. If you can't measure it, it does
not exist. Which is why it is so important to go for
the heart of the matter, which is the 60 % capacity
"rule". It all comes back to that,
posted 31st December 2006:
Nice Northern Scot article
about Santa stepping in to help Logie Primary from Moray
fight threat of closure, though disgraceful that spare
capacity is still being used in a totally inappropriate
way. Note Moray MSP Richard Lochhead reiterating the
view that the 60% threshold is "artificial and
lacks official status or validity". Exactly.
Also, see other Northern Scot article
for broader perspective on how this rule is now being
applied by HMIe; The Moray Education Committee states
"there has always been pressure on us from HMIe.
They will revisit us in February and the first thing
they will ask is what we have done about school rationalisation.".
This fits in with the blog for 27th December on the
HMIe report immediately below this.
posted 27th December 2006:
report on Education Authority performance has caused
outrage, see the Herald
and the Scotsman for
coverage and comments. In its section 2.6 "Resource
and Financial Management" it states.
"One of the major challenges facing
many councils was that of school rationalisation ...
In a few authorities, senior officers in educational
services have expended a very high level of resource
to prepare plans for reorganisation, often in consultation
with elected members, only to find that when unpopular
decisions are to be taken, elected members are no longer
willing to support them .... The rationalisation of
schools provision is a sensitive and complex issue.
The apparent slow progress in some areas ... reflects
the difficulties inherent in a process set firmly in
a local political context. Generally, parents and the
wider local community do not wish to see the loss of
acommunity resource. Elected local councillors, individually
and corporately, may see the educational and financial
benefits of rationalisation, but they are also acutely
aware that such proposals can arouse considerable opposition
and see the case for maintaining existing schools".
I think a strong case could be made that
HMIE are not only acting outside their terms of reference
and core objective, they are acting in ways antithetical
to, and in potential conflict with, their core objective.
The HMIE Annual Report for 2006 is here.
It states that their Core Objective is "to promote
and contribute to sustainable improvements in standards,
quality and achievements for all learners in a Scottish
education system which is inclusive". It says
nothing about closing down schools, or how closing down
schools may contribute to that Core Objective, yet the
HMIE report on educational authorities appears biased
in favour of the supposed "educational and financial
benefits of rationalisation".
See also HMIE's "About
Us" and their Framework
Document (April 2005). I can find nothing in either
document that would justify their advocating a financially
driven programme of school closures across Scotland,
especially in the absence of any evidence that this
would support their core educational objective and their
statutory terms of reference.
If HMIE are to get themselves into these
areas one would expect at a minimum that their policy-related
comments and advice would be evidence-based, and in
turn based on educational grounds. On the contrary,
they appear to ignore the evidence that small schools
and the related issues of small class sizes for early
years can positively contribute to the core objective
of educational performance.
At the very least, HMIE appear to be acting
as proxies for accountants (Audit Scotland / Accounts
Commission) in this context. That is not, or at least
should not be, their role and responsibility.
The final comments by HMIE in the Herald
article are reminiscent of Accounts Commission / Audit
Scotlands' washing their hands of responsibility for
their own statements and criticism in the context of
school rationalistion; 'A spokesman for HMIE denied
the organisation was critical of councillors. "We
have no view on the issue and it is a matter for the
local authority to determine"'. All the objective
observer has to do is read HMIE comments above and more
fully in Section 2.6 of their report and decide whether
that statement by HMIE is correct.
If I was marking this statutory body's
performance in their assignment, I would fail it, tell
them to go away and see what their terms of reference
are, tell them to look at the evidence, then resubmit.
posted 10th October 2006: COSLA
have been given a chance (just like in 2000) to produce
proper guidelines and advice on school closures and
get their house in order, and have failed (just like
in 2000). They have produced a Briefing
Paper for MSPs and a "Good
Practice" paper on how to close schools. But
the whole orientation, tone and indeed remit is about
the schools estate (and bricks and mortar) not the school
institution (and children, education, and the wider
One of the most significant aspects in the main document
which has the gall to call itself a "Good Practice
Guide" is the long Appendix on "Communication
and Consultation Issues" where there is one section
on dealing with parents and their - quote - "emotional
reaction" - unquote; one section on dealing with
head teachers and staff and how they can be silenced
and bought off; and, not one, but 7 (seven) sections
(4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12 and 13) on how to handle the media.
That is what this "Good Practice
Guide" is about. Information management and spin,
not the public interest, certainly not genuine consultation.
And they wonder why they are not trusted by parents
and other interested parties?
One thing that might be overlooked by
those who have not travelled down this road as long
as we have in our part of the world is where it says;
"One thing will become apparent. Just as the
actual implementation of any school estates strategy
can be labour-intensive - particularly if the authority
is trying to make a number of changes at the one time
- so too can the delivery of an effective Communications
Strategy. If a council considers that the in-house resources
may be inadequate, then the introduction of outside
consultants and/or additional temporary resources should
The frequent role of consultants in such a context
is not to improve communication but to prevent
it. They are intended to act as a buffer between the
councillors and the administrative officials, especially
to protect the Director of Education from embarassing
questions - or any questions at all. I have sat in on
a public "consultation" meeting where the
consultant was asked to justify the Director of Education's
policies - while the Director of Education sat mute
and unresponsive in the front row. The consultants are
very well paid lightning conductors.
The document is also clearly predicated on the assumption
of rolling "rounds" of school closures. It
The conclusion of the press conference and any subsequent
TV/radio interviews should be the end of any dealings
with the media on a particular round of school closures.
Any outlet that comes along afterwards should simply
be given a copy of the media statement there
is no need to have the lead politician/Director subjected
to further questioning. After all, the final decision
has now been taken and the issue is done and dusted.
Until the next time
"...round of school closures..."?.... "until
the next time...."?. This orientation and assumption
in favour of rolling programmes of school closures contrasts
with England where the new guidelines in place have
reduced school closures to a trickle.
This whole process is rather like having a gang which
has been found guilty on numerous occasions of disrupting
communities, mispresentation of facts, and irresponsible
lack of care for the public interest. Now the gang is
being asked to design their own ASBO. This is COSLA's
design of the ASBO their members are to serve under.
If a gang designs its own ASBO what would you expect
to find? As loose guidelines as possible; as much mealy-mouthed
justification as possible for their past, present and
future behaviour; as much potential for supporting their
side of the story as possible; and as much scope and
freedom to pursue their own behaviour as possible in
the future. That is what you have here.
The COSLA document confirms what I have been convinced
about for six years, that COSLA is incapable of putting
its own house in order here, certainly not as far as
designing its own ASBO is concerned.
posted 5th October 2006: The
Report of the Education Committee of the Scottish
Parliament for 27th September is published, it was decided
27th September to keep Petition 872 (see blogs below)
open and to ask COSLA whether it will address the 60
per cent capacity trigger (see my paper
for more on the 60% trigger); also to ask Audit Scotland
and HMIE what changes they anticipate in their activities
and in their advice to councils as a result of the minister's
letter on the issue.
posted 19th September 2006: The
transcript of last week's Scottish Parliament's Education
Committee's consideration of PE872 on rural school closures
while the same Committee's consideration of school closures
at the same meeting is here.
posted 16th September 2006: The
Press and Journal gives excellent coverage to the Rural
Schools Networks campaign and relaed political developments
On the Education Committee meeting in Parliament itself
(see post for 14th September below), it was reported
that 26 members of the Network (I was number 26) had
travelled to Edinburgh to watch Sandy Longmuir's presentation
of PE872 in front of the committee. We came from Moray,
Argyll, Angus and the Scottish Borders, signalling this
is a national problem and a national campaign.
posted 14th September 2006: The
Elgin Conference on "A Future for Rural Primary
Schools?" is to be held on 23rd September, see
posted 14th September 2006: The
so called "60% rule" (where schools with less
than 60% use of capacity may be considered as possible
candidates for closure) has been widely discredited
(e.g. see my Accounts
Commission and School Closures). However, the genesis
of the rule has been difficult to identify until recently.
This is actually revealed in part of a letter to Richard
Baker MSP from Audit Scotland which said "during
the study an advisory panel from the Association of
Directors of Education suggested that schools with less
than 60% of places occupied could be seen as a realistic
focus for potential rationalisation". So we
have a situation in which (1) the Directors of Education
blame the Accounts Commission / Audit Scotland for the
60% rule, and (2) the Accounts Commission / Audit Scotland
blame the Directors of Education for the 60% rule. Whenever
either party is are challenged on justifying the 60%
rule, they point the finger at the other party. No-one
accepts responsibilty for it or tries to justify it.
Further, the "study" referred to in the Audit
Scotland letter was actually carried out in 1995, this
is the mists of educational time given how much has
changed in educational practice, policy and technology
in the intervening years. This is very powerful additional
evidence discrediting the rule as having no defensible
(or defended) basis. Thanks to Richard Baker MSP for
permission to quote from the letter.
posted 14th September 2006: The
Scottish Parliament Education Committee heard PE872
on schools closures presented by Sandy Longmur, papers
for the meeting are here,
and the transcript of the committee's discussion will
be available on the committee's home
page next week .
posted 10th September 2006: The
Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) have
just issued an updated briefing
note on school closures.
posted 12 July 2006: Encouraging
article in the Shetland
Times showing how Rural Schools Network is linking
small schools threatened with closure right across Scotland,
also cites Moray parents meeting with Peter Peacock,
Minister for Education where the "60% rule"
posted 12 July 2006: An
article in the Shetland Times titled "Closing
Schools can be Positive - Head" follows up
what is being mooted in Shetland. Much of what is happening
there echoes what has happened in other parts of Scotland.
See also entry for 13th June 2006 below on this.
posted 15th June 2006: Magnus
Linklater in the Scotsman charts
how the community at Roy Bridge at fighting closure
of their school (see posting for November 21st 2005
below) . As he says, it challenges standard clichés.
He says "Far from representing the decline of rural
communities, falling school rolls and sullen residents,
this could become a landmark case, showing the resilience
of local people who are prepared to take matters into
their own hands rather than stand back and watch fate
posted 13th June 2006: The
Shetland News comments
("School closures won't work") that the council
has put school closures back on the agenda for the third
time in five years, "demonstrating an extraordinary
lack of political awareness" according to the newspaper.
The newspaper's report is here
and the council's report is here.
It makes clear that the exercise is driven by Audit
Scotland. Apart from the potential effects of closure
on the local economies and communities, it should also
be noted that many of the schools involved in this proposed
rationalisation process can be expected to have class
sizes where the economics of small class sizes really
begin to pay off (see panel on right). This can be expected
to be damaged by "rationalisation". So instead
of levelling up all schools to take advantage of the
benefits of small classes in the early years (as in
these Shetland schools), these moves instead help level
It is also worth noting the phrase from
the council's report
about the proposed closures; "Many staff are content
to take the opportunity of school rationalisation to
opt for redundancy/early retirement, with the related
benefits that accrue, and therefore change can be achieved
without conflict" (para 65). It would be useful
to hear directly from these allegedly "many"
Shetland teachers and the implication that they would
be "content" with these proposals to close
the schools they teach in, on the basis of being offered
monetary and other benefits.
posted 11th June 2006: The
Herald newspaper reported
of Friday that according to official figures for average
class sizes in primary schools, Scotland lies 19th in
a league table of 21 European countries, with only Ireland
and England having a higher average.The teacher's union,
the EIS is threatening strike action if class sizes
are not cut. It can be noted in passing that an effect
of school closures (indeed the area where major cost
savings are made) is to actually increase class
size. See panel on right for more on the economics of
posted 10th June 2006: I
am grateful to a parent at Hilden Integrated Primary
School in Northern Ireland who e-mailed me to say that
many of the experiences with councils in Scotland recorded
in the pages here echo their current experiences. See
website and judge for yourself.
posted 3rd June 2006: Richard
Lochhead MSP (see also posting 1st June) and Sandy Longmuir
(see above) both attack the 60% rule in an article and
letter in the Press and Journal yesterday, see article
and letter here
posted 1st June 2006: A
Scottish Parliament question by Richard Lochhead MSP
asks where the 60% rule capacity rule (see above and
below here) came from, what the status is of the rule,
what criteria were used in determining it and whether
there are any plans to abolish or review it. You can
see the answer here, an
answer which does not provide any new information and
avoids all the important issues surrounding this invidious
criterion which everyone refers to, and which is actively
cited in closure decisions, but which no-one accepts
responsibility for, or has even tried to explain or
justify (see below, first entry for 17th February).
Lewis Carroll, you should be alive today.
posted 31st May 2006: The
totally discredited 60% capacity rule is now being used
as a benchmark by HMIE inspectors in looking at Moray
to encourage further school closures. In their Report
Moray Council Follow-up Inspection Report, May 2006)
they say the "council had made slow progress in
addressing over-capacity in the primary sector and adopting
principles of Best Value with a view to improving service
This may make politically convenient reading
and provides ammunition for politicians, both local
and national, but that does not justify why these inspectors
have strayed into areas of asset management, well beyond
their professional competence and expertise. While HMIE
(Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education in Scotland)
is set up to be nominally independent, it is an Executive
Agency of the Scottish Ministers directly accountable
to Scottish Ministers. The Scottish Ministers are responsible
for setting the policy and resources framework within
which the Agency operates.
You can read reaction to the report in
the Northern Scot here
and the Herald here.
Those who are used to the refusal on the part of any
statutory body to accept reponsibility for their actions
or advice in these areas (see first first posting for
February 17th below) will not be surprised by HMIE's
pained defence: a spokesman for HMIE in the Herald denied
it was encouraging closures or mergers. "We are
not giving the green light to anything. We have no view
on the issue and it is a matter for the local authority
to determine," she said.
But read what they actually said about
need to deal with "over-capacity". If our
children being educated in the schools that these people
are inspecting were as cavalier in refusing to accept
reponsibility for their own actions and statements,
we could expect to find social workers or police knocking
on our door before too long.
posted April 11th
2006: It is not just rural
schools which are threatened with closure in Scotland,
the Herald caries an article
(April 6th 2006) which documents how some primary schools
(and their children, parents and teachers) in Glasgow
are being treated in these respects. The article documents
how hundreds of parents have formed an alliance against
closure plans for more than two dozen primary schools.
The article notes campaigners have branded the local
authority's consultation process a "sham"
amid claims that parents' views were not taken on board.
One parent Pauline Gillgallon said: "It's the first
time parents city-wide have come together. We appreciate
that the population is falling, but smaller class sizes
are known to be more beneficial for children. We weren't
consulted, we were dictated to. We are too angry to
These same sentiments have been repeated
in many rural areas in Scotland in recent years. In
these respects at least, there seems to be more joining
the experience of urban and rural schools in Scotland
than there is dividing them
posted March 1st
2006: The Herald today,
on fears of school closures due to declining numbers
of pupils. An economist is quoted as saying; "we
have a situation where there will be big increases in
public expenditure for the older group in our society
through the need to fund pensions and the policy of
free care for the elderly and we need to make savings.
It is simply not efficient government to keep small
This sweeping generalisation about alleged inefficiency
of keeping small schools open is both unjustified on
economic grounds and potentially damaging on social
and educational grounds. As even the Accounts Commission
and Audit Scotland concede, questions of the efficiency
or otherwise of small schools can only be resolved by
looking at the economic, educational and social benefits
and costs on a school-by-school basis.
These efficiency issues become clearer in many cases
when the educational, social and economic effects of
school closure on vulnerable communities are considered.
When the costs and benefits of the true alternatives
are compared, keeping a small school open can turn out
to be the more efficient option in many cases when the
full spectrum of educational performance and social
and economic effects are considered, especially in fragile
The problem with the generalisation in the Herald is
that the assertion will be seized on by some interested
parties as "economists say small schools are inefficient",
which would of course be patent nonsense.
There is a useful balancing feature
by Andrew Denholm in the same issue on the postive role
played by small schools and South Lanarkshoirs council's
supportive and progressive attitude towards them.
posted February 17th 2006: the
original source of the "60% rule" where schools
with less than 60% of places occupied are regarded as
a "realistic focus for potential rationalisation"
(i.e. closure) is revealed. As noted in my Accounts
Commission and School Closures paper, for years
councils have been basically saying, "it's not
us, the Accounts Commission / Audit Scotland are directing
us to seriously explore closing schools with less than
60% places ocucupied". And where did the Accounts
Commission / Audit Scotland get the 60% rule? According
to a letter (18th November 2005) from the Director of
Performance Audit (Audit Scotland) to Mr Richard Baker
MSP, in 1995 "an advisory panel from the Association
of Directors of Education suggested that schools with
less than 60% of places occupied could be seen as a
sensible focus for rationalisation".
In short, the Directors of Education are blaming the
Accounts Commission / Audit Scotland for the 60% rule,
in turn the Accounts Commission / Audit Scotland are
blaming the Directors of Education for the 60% rule,
no-one is accepting responsibility for it, no-one has
stated on what rational basis the "rule" was
devised, no-one has explained why what seems to be a
number plucked out of thin air in 1995 is still being
uncritically recycled unmodified today.
In my background papers above I explained why the 60%
rule is arbitrary and lacks any coherent economic rationale,
never mind social or political rationale. The latest
revelations regarding the genesis of the rule merely
help to underline these points and discredit the rule,
with knock-on implications for the credibility and reputation
of any agencies or bodies that continue to promote it,
and, worse, act on it. Now see the next post below
posted February 17th 2006
In their Report
on Argyll and Bute Council's performance published this
week, Audit Scotland states "a high proportion
(around 64%) of the council's primary schools are significantly
under occupied" (Para 107). "If the council
is to provide education in a good environment for all
its pupils it will have to make some difficult decisions
weighing the costs and benefits of operating underoccupied
rural schools" (Para 109). "The council still
needs to take action to address the problem" (Para
109). "The council needs to produce an effective
strategy to address schools that are underoccupied and
in a poor state of repair" (Exhibit 9).
The message is quite clear; start an extensive and
serious school closure programme again or we will come
back and pillory you as a poorly managed council failing
in its statutory duty. The Accounts Commission / Audit
Scotland holds two positions (1) to close a school is
a matter for the council to decide, not Accounts Commission
/ Audit Scotland, and (2) the council is failing to
close schools that they should close. The fact that
these two positions are essentially contradictory (as
noted in background papers above) seems to be lost on
Audit Scotland and the Accounts Commission.
No responsible person would argue that there are no
circumstances in which a school should be closed, or
deny that the council has a statutory responsibility
in these regards. What is totally unacceptable and contrary
to the public interest is that major social, educational
changes may be forced on fragile communities through
policies formulated by a mechanistic interpretation
of a discredited indicator.
So Argyll and Bute can soon expect more of the traumas
forced on it by the Accounts Commission / Audit Scotland
previous forays in these areas in recent years, not
just in Argyll and Bute but in many other parts of Scotland.
It once again raises the entirely legitimate question,
who audits the auditors? And should complex issues with
major educational, social, economic and community implications
be dictated and driven by accountants?
posted January 14th 2006 Very
welcome news from Sandy Longmuir who writes: Although
the action group had been assured of its future some
time ago, the council vote on the future of Arbirlot
Primary School took place last night. Although the director
of education included a closure option the elected members
of Angus council voted to retain the school with a £70k
improvement package. The leader of the council spoke
at the meeting and assured the gallery that there was
"a long term future for Arbirlot". Sandy
also encloses two links on this, one from the Press
and Journal and the other from the Courier.
posted end December 2005
this month Channelkirk School in the Borders was reprieved
from closure by Scottish Borders Council. This was due
to a determined, able and well-informed campaign fought
by the parents and local community and the school's
Action Group to protect and maintain their school. The
Group conducted a superbly organised campaign supported
with comprehensive documentation. What the Group uncovered
and is cited in this Borders
Telegraph article raises real questions about other
closure programmes, past and possibly future (as a footnote
here, the council's decision and press
release mentions that it took the unusual step commissioning
an advocate to review its closure programme. The advocate
made mention of some comments I had made on the closure
programme, and my response and my original letter is
posted November 21st 2005:
Parents at Roy Bridge in the Highlands have offered
to build their own School rather than see the existing
one close. See BBC online on this here