Highlands & Islands

Minister steps in over Scottish islands school closures

School protest sign
Image caption Ministers have called in the Scalloway closure proposal for further investigation

Scottish ministers have stepped in over plans to close schools in Shetland and the Western Isles.

Four closures in the Western Isles have been rejected, the first time powers under the new Schools Consultation Act have been used to prevent shutdowns.

The proposed closure of the secondary department of Scalloway School in Shetland has also been called in for further ministerial consideration.

But consent was given to Moray Council to close Cabrach Primary School.

The Scottish government said its closure would go ahead because the council had "adhered to the process set out within the legislation".

The Schools Consultation Act established a presumption against the closure of rural schools by ensuring that a decision to consult on a closure proposal is not made until the local authority explored alternatives and assessed the likely implications.

In the Western Isles, Carloway Primary in Lewis and Shelibost Primary in Harris will now stay open, while S1-S2 provision at Lionel and Shawbost Schools in Lewis will continue.

Education Secretary Mike Russell made the announcement to the Scottish Parliament.

He said: "This government is committed to protecting and defending rural schools.

"Closure should only ever be a last resort and will only be allowed where there are clear educational benefits to pupils.

"The evidence shows there are credible alternatives to closure for the four Western Isles schools.

"The council has failed in its obligation under the Act to show that closing these schools is the last resort, or that there are no viable alternatives. I will not, therefore, allow these schools to close."

Western Isles Council leader Angus Campbell said the minister's decision was "extremely disappointing".

He said the council went through an extensive consultation process and stuck rigorously to the guidelines laid down by the Scottish government.

Mr Campbell added: "These decisions make a mockery of local democracy. I believe it should be the democratically elected representatives of the Western Isles community who should be making decisions about local schools, not ministers and civil servants in Edinburgh."

He added: "I look forward to hearing as to when the Scottish government will provide the additional money that will be required to keep these schools open."

Councillors in Shetland decided to shut Scalloway's secondary department in December, as part of a broader review of education in the isles.

Following the move, the Scottish government received 42 representations from campaigners urging the decision to be called in.

After the concerns were raised, ministers concluded that the lack of detail on the new Anderson High School made it impossible for consultees to judge whether educational benefits could be accrued from the closure of the department.

Mr Russell said: "I believe that there is evidence that the council has undertaken a flawed consultation because it is currently impossible to judge the educational benefits of such a move whilst details of the new Anderson High School remain unconfirmed.

"This is an issue which warrants further investigation.

"I will now carefully consider the Scalloway case further and determine whether or not to grant consent to the closure as quickly as possible."

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