Highland halts school closures after Michael Russell orders 'review'

HIGHLAND Council has halted consultations on the future of rural schools after accepting a one-year moratorium on closures imposed by the education secretary, Michael Russell.

However, the authority is to seek an urgent meeting with Mr Russell to discuss education in rural areas.

His freeze on closures will run until June 2012 and will be used to allow a commission on the delivery of rural education to review legislation and to make recommendations on best practice.

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The council is currently reviewing its entire school estate and has already completed statutory consultation in Greater Fort William, while work had started in reviewing schools in Caithness and Easter Ross.

Councillors yesterday voted to suspend the work being done in Caithness and Easter Ross, pending the outcome of the commission.

Proposals on the future education provision in Wick, where there are no rural schools, will be reported to the Scottish Parliament's education, culture and sport committee on 9 August.

Mr Russell issued the request for a moratorium after telling the parliament on 9 June that the current schools consultation legislation was "defective".

The move sparked a war of words between the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), which criticised the minister, saying it was "perverse" that no discussion had taken place with its members about the commission.

Cosla president Pat Watters said no case had been made for the moratorium and the terms in which the Cabinet Secretary had described the need for such action "undermined local government's careful management of rural education".

He said that of 35 schools proposed for closure, few had been called in and Mr Russell had felt able to refuse the closure of only four of these under the current legislation.

On 14 June, Argyll and Bute Council agreed to stop its consultation process on proposals to amalgamate 11 primary schools.

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The council did not support the moratorium, but agreed it should be discussed with the Scottish Government by Cosla, on behalf of all councils.

Last year, Scottish ministers called in plans by Highland Council to review school provision in the Greater Fort William area.

However, they later gave the go-ahead to the authority to close Caol primary school, Fort William Roman Catholic primary school and Lochyside Roman Catholic primary school and to build two new schools on a joint campus on the site of the current Caol primary.

They also agreed to close Fort William primary school and Upper Achintore primary school in order to merge them on a new site.


Two rural Aberdeenshire schools with fewer than ten pupils have been saved from closure by the Scottish Government.

In April, Aberdeenshire Council ordered the closure of Clatt and Logie Coldstone schools, but that decision was overruled yesterday.

The council insists it must make savings. It planned to transfer eight pupils at Logie Coldstone to Tarland school in August. Clatt pupils were to have been split between Kennethmonth and Rhynie.

The closures would have saved the council around 200,000 in a year.