Parents anger at school closures report Herald
Newspaper ANDREW DENHOLM, Education Correspondent December 26 2006
Campaigners reacted angrily yesterday to a report by school
inspectors which highlighted "slow progress" in closing or
merging schools in some local authority areas.
Concerns arose after the publication of a report by HM Inspectorate
of Education (HMIE) which said parents were fighting hard to retain
primaries and secondaries.
The need for closures in rural and urban areas follows a dramatic drop
in Scotland's population, which has resulted in the number of pupils
falling by 50,000 over the past decade.
The impact has already been felt, with a raft of mergers and closures
over the past five years. In February, plans to close 28 primary schools
across Glasgow were approved as part of a £128m initiative to
tackle falling rolls.
The situation is more acute in rural areas. Since 2003, nearly 60 have
either shut or been threatened with closure, including schools in Midlothian,
the Borders, Fife, Angus, Aberdeenshire and Moray.
However, campaigners argue the worth of a school cannot be judged on
financial viability alone and point to statistics which show that smaller
rural secondaries outperform their city rivals.
The report by HMIE into the management of local authority education
departments accepted that the rationalisation of such schools was a
"sensitive and complex issue".
However, it added: "The apparent slow progress in some areas cannot
be attributed to . . . weaknesses in planning for education provision
or from failures of authorities to identify the opportunities for improved
"Rather it 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 a community 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."
Sandy Longmuir, a spokesman for the Rural Schools Network, set up to
fight school closures, said that he was "deeply disappointed"
with the report.
"It is horrendous. It has no concept of the educational or social
aspects of schools and is missing the point completely," he said.
"The best educational results come out of small rural schools and
if you are getting rid of them you are attacking excellence. Inspectors
should be looking at the worst-performing schools and doing something
about them instead.
"Socially, the school is the hub of the community. Most parents
are involved in the running of the school and it is also used frequently
in the evening and weekends for all sorts of community groups.
"To question local councillors in this way is an affront to local
Local authorities also reacted angrily to the suggestion. "The
suggestion that councillors do not take the difficult decisions on school
closures simply does not hold water," said a spokesman.
"Councillors are in a no-win situation. On one hand there are criticisms
when they close a school, no matter how well founded the educational
case, while on the other HMIE appear to think they should be more active.
In fact, councils are getting the balance right."
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."