School Reorganisation Proposals
In Scotland, local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure the adequate and efficient provision of school education in their area. In that context, they may undertake reorganisation of their school estate at any time and the need for school closures (sometimes referred to as rationalisation), amalgamations or altering catchment areas can be prompted by changing population patterns and the need to provide suitable school buildings for pupils and teachers.
If a local authority proposes to change any part of the existing education provision in their area then they must engage in a formal consultation process.
Legislation - The Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010
On November 19, 2009 the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010, which came into force on April 5, 2010. The Act revokes and supersedes the previous legislation - the Education (Publication and Consultation Etc.) (Scotland) Regulations 1981 - that set out the process that had to be followed when a local authority was consulting on a relevant school reorganisation proposal.
The 2010 Act legislation updates and strengthens that consultation process and its overarching aim is to establish a process for all school closures, and other major changes that affect schools, that is robust, coherent, open and transparent, and above all which commands the trust and confidence of the public. Further, the Act aims to safeguard rural schools by ensuring that a decision to consult on a closure proposal would not be made until the local authority had explored all possible alternatives and fully assessed the likely implications of closure. The Act also replaces the system of referring certain local authority decisions - under prescribed restricted criteria - for Ministerial consent with a power for Ministers to call in any school closure decision.
Access this link for a timeline that sets out the consultation process that must be followed by local authorities.
Ministerial 'Call-In' (Closures only)
As described above, the Act provides for Scottish Ministers to call in a local authority decision to close a school. Ministers will only call-in a decision if there is strong evidence of either:
(a) the local authority failing to comply in a significant way with the requirements set out in the Act; or
(b) the local authority failing to take proper account of a material consideration relevant to its decision.
After the local authority has taken its decision to close a school there is a three week period, which begins on the date the decision is made, for anyone to make representations to Ministers requesting the case to be called in. There is then a further three week period for Ministers to reach a decision on whether or not to call in the case. Once a decision has been reached, the local authority in question and each individual who had requested a call in will be notified of the decision. If Ministers decide that a case should be called in, a full investigation will then commence.
Rural School Closure Proposals
The Act sets out special safeguards for rural schools by requiring local authorities to have regard to three factors before deciding to propose and consult on a rural school closure. These factors acknowledge and reflect the particular importance of a school to the more fragile and vulnerable rural and remote communities of Scotland. The three factors are:-
- any viable alternative to closure,
- the likely effect on the local community if the school were to close, and
- the likely effect of different travelling arrangements occasioned by the closure.
Access this link to find a list of every rural school in Scotland and an explanation of how that list is compiled and maintained.
Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education
Since the Schools Consultation Act came into force, there have been differences in the interpretation of the Act by Government and local authorities. The SNP manifesto said that it would "amend the Schools Consultation Act to strengthen the rights of communities and to ensure that consultation is genuine and based on accurate information. There will be a strong presumption against closure and revised means of supporting rural delivery"
The Scottish Government and COSLA have established an independent Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education chaired by Sheriff David Sutherland. It has been tasked with reviewing the legislation and its application and examining both how the delivery of rural education can maximise the attainment and life chances of young people in rural areas, and the link between rural education and rural communities.
The Report of the Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education was published on 19 April 2013 and is available below:
Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education Report
The Scottish Government provides statutory guidance to local authorities on the Act.
The 2010 Act can be accessed at the following link.
Explanatory Notes that accompany the Act can be accessed at the following link.
A Guide to the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 can be accessed at the following link.
Currrent school closure proposals
Access this link for the timescales of current school closure proposals , under the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010.
If you would like to make a representation to Scottish Ministers requesting them to call in a local authority decision to close a school then please send an e-mail, clearly setting out which of the above criteria you believe are grounds for the case to be called in, and providing specific evidence to support your request, to the following addresses -
email@example.com or post to: The Scottish Government, School Infrastructure Unit, 2A (South), Victoria Quay, Edinburgh, EH6 6QQ.
Access this link for a list of decisions on School Closures taken under the Schools (Consultation)(Scotland) Act 2010.
Access this link for a list of decisions on School Reorganisation Proposals since June 2007 for which Ministerial consent was required under the 1981 Regulations.
Access this link for a list of decision letters for dispensation from the School Premises (General Requirements and Standards) (Scotland) Regulations 1967 as amended.