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The future of rural education

THE LONG awaited report by the government-appointed commission on rural education in Scotland has finally been published almost a year behind schedule.

The 15 strong panel, including two Shetland folk, are recommending greater financial openness and improved government guidance over school closures.

The reports findings will impact on how Shetland Islands Council proceeds with its Blueprint for Education, which is looking to close four junior high schools and five primary schools in rural Shetland.

The report was launched in Inverness on Friday morning by commission chairman Sheriff David Sutherland, from Tain.

He said they were making 38 recommendations to the government, adding that the report looked at the wider issue of regenerating rural communities rather than dealing with education in isolation.

“The issues about when and why a rural school should be closed were the most difficult the Commission faced, and despite the different experiences Commission members brought to our task, the Commission was able to reach a high level of agreement around clear recommendations,” he said.

“I hope that these provide a template for improving and sustaining rural education in Scotland.”

The SIC welcomed the report’s publication, saying that it would allow them to start looking at dates to consult on proposed closures of the junior high schools in Skerries, Aith and Sandwick and Olnafirth primary schools.

Education and families committee chairwoman Vaila Wishart said: “I’m very glad this has finally been published. We’ve waited a long time to see the Commission’s views. We’ll be studying the detail it contains over the next few days.”

The reports main recommendations were:

• to consistently achieve high standards of consultation and working with communities, underpinned by stronger guidance from the government;
• educational benefit statements must improve in quality and continue to be a very important part of closure proposals;
• rather than removing financial issues from proposals to close schools, transparent and accurate information should be provided to underpin any financial argument;
• ministers should retain the power to call in school closure proposals on their merits, and be able to remit the decision back to the local authority;
• accessible early years provision and wraparound care are very important in rural areas. There is an opportunity to develop innovative solutions including using rural schools as community hubs for integrated services.

The full report will be available here.