Scottish local authorities have been asked not to progress or bring forward new proposals to close any rural school for one year.
A Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education will be established to consider the provision of education in rural communities and to take a comprehensive look at the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010, which includes a clear legislative presumption against the closure of such schools and the need for educational benefits to be the driving force in any proposed closure.
Education Secretary Michael Russell said:
"The delivery of education in rural communities is about much more than a school building, it is fundamental to the social and economic make-up of a community. That is why it is the right of individual communities to have genuine consultation based on accurate information and why there is, and will remain, a clear legislative presumption against closure.
"However, since the Schools Consultation Act came into force there have been differences in the interpretation of the Act. I believe that these differences have resulted in the original intentions of the Act - that the educational, not financial, benefits should be the main consideration - not always being followed.
"To allow for a comprehensive and fair assessment of the closures process, I have asked for a one year moratorium during which local authorities will not propose rural schools for closure.
"During this period a new Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education will be tasked with, amongst other things, reviewing the legislation and its application and making recommendations on best practice on the delivery of education in rural areas. It will also look at innovation and the link between rural education and rural regeneration.
"I will announce more details on its remit and membership shortly, but it will have licence to think radically and will return at the start of the next year with fresh proposals."
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