The School Closure Review Panel has refused to allow Highland Council to go ahead with plans to shut primary schools at Edinbane, Struan, Knockbreck and Dunvegan in the north of Skye.
The local authority had sought to replace them with a purpose-built new building in Dunvegan, but the plans were opposed by parents.
The independent panel claims there were significant flaws in the council’s proposal, adding that there was an unwillingness to consider alternatives to closure.
The decision has been welcomed by parent councils of the four schools.
Tim Spencer, a parent from Edinbane, said he hoped the council would now abandon what he described as its ill-thought out plans.
He added: “It is great news that the review panel is agreeing with what we have been saying. Obviously some caution because the council may still yet appeal. I think what this underlines is that a public consultation should be genuine and not just a paper exercise.
“The council’s evidence was just flawed. It failed to give a case for shutting small schools.”
Frances Maclean, chairwoman of the Edinbane parent council, added: “I’m really pleased the council has been stopped because its behaviour throughout this whole process was shoddy.”
Fiona MacDonald, of Knockbreck parent council, said: “We felt the council had made a decision before beginning their consultation, so we are really pleased with the ruling.”
Patricia Quigley, the review panel chair, said: “The panel has concluded that Highland Council has not fulfilled its obligations under the 2010 Act. Accordingly, the School Closure Review Panel refuses to consent to Highland Council’s proposal.”
The authority’s education chairman Drew Millar said: “We undertook an extensive consultation, taking account of the ideas and aspirations expressed by all of those involved.
We listened to parents when we came to our decision, and we sought to accommodate the range of views.
“Many parents will share our disappointment, and we shall now take stock and consider the options, including whether the council will lodge an appeal.”
The council has 14 days to consider whether it should lodge an appeal.
The School Closure Review Panels was created in March to review proposed closures called in by Scottish ministers.
Scottish local authorities proposing to close a school within their area must do so in line with the requirements of the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010.
It is for the Scottish ministers to decide whether the authority has met the statutory requirements. The 2010 act also contains the power for ministers to “call in” a local authority school closure decision.