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Response to Rural Education Commission From Scottish Government

18th April 2013

The findings of the Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education have been broadly welcomed by the Scottish Government and COSLA .

The Commission, chaired by Sheriff David Sutherland, has presented its report in Inverness this morning and made a number of recommendations around the issues faced in delivering education in rural areas.

Minister for Learning Alasdair Allan said:As we have said on many occasions, securing high quality educational opportunities is key to the sustainability of rural communities. However, this presents many challenges, which is why the Scottish Government and CoSLA established the Commission to look at the future delivery of education in rural areas.

I would like to thank Sheriff Sutherland and his team for their hard work over many months. I know that they have seen many examples of good practice and creative and committed teachers in our rural schools.

I will carefully consider todays recommendations as we look at how the Scottish Government, CoSLA and individual councils can improve how education is delivered in rural Scotland. We need a sustainable network of rural schools that can continue to deliver the best possible education for Scotlands pupils as we foster a generation of young people equipped with the right skills to succeed in the global jobs market.

We expect to make a fuller response to this report in the coming weeks.

COSLA President, Councillor David ONeill, said:"Local Authorities in Scotland are committed to providing all children in Scotland with the best possible education no matter where they live. I want to go on record and thank Sheriff David Sutherland and the wider Commission for the commitment and time spent producing a thoughtful and comprehensive report. It is right that COSLA and Scottish Government take some time to work out how we can take the report forward, but it is worth saying that my initial impression is that there is much within report that we would want to see implemented in full

Councillor Douglas Chapman, COSLA spokesperson for Education, Children and Young People added:This is a good and balanced report, and we need to take the time to look at it detail. Consulting on closing a school is not an easy matter for either local authorities or communities, and Commission recognises this challenge in its report. We wanted a report that constructively attempted to resolve the challenges faced by authorities and communities, and I believe this is exactly what the Commission has delivered.

Commission On Delivery Of Rural Education Report
http://www.scotland.gov.uk/About/Review/CommissionRuralEducation

Recommendations

Recommendation 1: The Scottish Government and local authorities should agree a coherent rural regeneration strategy to support economic outcomes for rural areas.

Recommendation 2: Local authorities and their partners should ensure that Professor Deacon's recommendation on the importance of children and family centres is realised as much as possible in rural areas, including support for the development of rural schools as community hubs offering integrated early years services either on a permanent or outreach basis.

Recommendation 3: Local authorities should recognise the importance of accessible early years provision in rural areas and work with their rural schools and other providers to ensure this is available in all areas and aligned with school areas where appropriate.

Recommendation 4: Local authorities should work closely in partnership with voluntary and third sector services to facilitate viable wraparound care provision in rural areas where there is demand, seeking innovative solutions to support families.

Recommendation 5: Further and higher education institutions, local authorities and schools should work together to provide the widest range of opportunities to young people and adults in rural areas, helping to widen curriculum provision in small rural secondary schools and working to ensure parity with provision in urban areas.

Recommendation 6: Local authorities, the Scottish Government, teaching institutions and trade unions should work together to explore innovative solutions to reduce the barriers to teaching in remote areas; and to ensure effective delivery of CPD to teachers in rural schools, learning from international best practice to reduce teachers' isolation and sustain skills and development.

Recommendation 7: There must be a commitment to resource the curriculum in small rural secondary schools to support the achievement of positive outcomes and destinations for young people. This will require innovative and flexible arrangements to be developed including use of local primary school teachers and other experts within the local community.

Recommendation 8: Local authorities should work in partnership with universities and the General Teaching Council for Scotland to facilitate and support a streamlined process for teachers who have the appropriate skills and wish to gain a dual qualification.

Recommendation 9: Strengthened guidance on school closures should address the links to be made between council services, and with regional and national bodies, when considering a potential school closure.

Recommendation 10: Local authorities should give consideration to rural proofing their policies where relevant, including changes to education provision, using approaches such as a rural proofing toolkit.

Recommendation 11: There is a strong need for research evaluating the impact on children and communities following a school closure and this should be sought by the Scottish Government.

Recommendation 12: Local authorities, together with their health and other Community Planning partners, should consider rural education holistically for their area, from early years to further and higher education, actively seeking solutions to enhance the viability of rural communities.

Recommendation 13: Local authorities should do everything they can to develop clear plans for travel arrangements and ensure adequate responsibility is taken for pupils' safety. This planning should be undertaken at an early stage in any proposal for change.

Recommendation 14: Schools and local authorities should promote use of school buildings by community groups.

Recommendation 15: Local authorities should encourage and accept help with school fabric and maintenance from parents and communities where appropriate.

Recommendation 16: The Scottish Government should seek to provide more clarity and support on the legal issues faced by local authorities over some school buildings, to help resolve the future of these buildings without lengthy delays.

Recommendation 17: Local authorities should address clearly the future use of a school building in any consultation document proposing school closure.

Recommendation 18: Education Scotland should have a wider role in providing a detailed response to the proposed educational benefits and a more sustained involvement in a school closure proposal.

Recommendation 19: Educational Benefits Statements must continue to be a very important part of a closure proposal and further guidance should be provided to ensure these are of a higher quality.

Recommendation 20: It should be acceptable for an Educational Benefits Statement to conclude that the educational impact is neutral, with no overall educational detriment to the children directly concerned. In such circumstances, if a closure continued to be proposed, it would be essential that any other factors are fully and transparently scrutinised, including identifying clear overall benefit to the rural communities involved.

Recommendation 21: School closure proposals should be accompanied by transparent, accurate and consistent financial information, rigorously evidencing any financial argument that is deployed. The impact, if any, of the proposal on the General Revenue Grant that the authority would receive in future should be clearly provided.

Recommendation 22: Clear guidance and a template for financial information should be developed to ensure financial information is presented in a complete and consistent manner.

Recommendation 23: A consistent approach to school capacity modelling should be agreed between the Scottish Government and local authorities.

Recommendation 24: A new, clearer understanding of 'a presumption against closure' should be set out by the Scottish Government in the statutory guidance accompanying the 2010 Act to reduce conflict and provide clarity and protection for communities and local authorities.

Recommendation 25: Clearer statutory guidance should be provided to ensure a more thorough and uniform approach to the matters of special regard, ensuring that these are given full consideration before conducting a closure consultation under the 2010 Act so that this consultation is on the local authority's conclusions in relation to each matter.

Recommendation 26: When considering alternatives during a closure proposal, the local authority should always include keeping the school open as an option.

Recommendation 27: All local authorities should clearly articulate their travel policy for school pupils and allow it to be debated locally on a regular basis.

Recommendation 28: The Scottish Government and local government should review section 5 (Correction of the paper) of the 2010 Act, with a view to providing clear statutory guidance on the minimum information to be provided by local authorities and addressing issues that arise during a consultation.

Recommendation 29: There should be stronger guidance on how to undertake informal consultation, and a clear expectation that this is an important and effective preparation for statutory consultation. A new title such as 'pre-statutory' consultation would make this clearer.

Recommendation 30: Local authorities should ensure that all school closure consultations receive sufficient attention to detail, in order that communities have confidence in both the specifics regarding their school and the local authority's wider plans and commitments.

Recommendation 31: Once a school closure proposal has undergone full consideration under the 2010 Act and it is agreed not to close the school, local authorities should make no further closure proposal for at least five years unless there is a significant relevant change.

Recommendation 32: Local authorities should ensure that all school closure consultations include appropriate consultation with children and young people and use the results of these exercises in their statutory consultation.

Recommendation 33: Scottish Ministers' role under the 2010 Act, as set out in the judgment in the case of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar v. Scottish Ministers, requires consideration of both the process followed and the merits of a school closure proposal that has been called in. Ministers should have three options in relation to these proposals, to:

(a) Consent, including consent with conditions;

(b) Refuse consent; or

(c) Remit the proposal back to the local authority for reconsideration.

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