Council ‘pause’ plans to close schools

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Dumfries and Galloway Council has decided to ‘pause’ the plans to close three schools after a public consultation.

Local politicians have reacted positively to the announcement on the future of Ae, Garlieston and Kirkbean Primary schools.

MSP Joan McAlpine says she is confident the ‘pause’ will turn into a ‘full-stop’ as the council’s case for closure has been ‘picked apart’.

The SNP MSP said: “I am confident that this is a victory and council members will turn this pause into a full stop.

“It is a welcome acknowledgement by the Council of the strength of feeling against the proposed closures which would have resulted in the inexorable decline of the villages targeted.

“Dumfries and Galloway is a vast, very rural area and education cannot be concentrated in a few urban centres.”

Ms McAlpine enlisted the help of Sandy Longmuir of Scotland’s Rural Schools Network to assist parents.

She also asked questions in Parliament and submitted to the council’s consultation.

The MSP praised the hard work put in by Sandy and the parents in fighting this move.

She added: “Parents, communities and politicians like myself campaigned against this move.

“With the help of Sandy Longmuir we were able to pick apart the Council officers’ case for closure which was based on flawed figures, a flawed consultation process and a misunderstanding of the law - which presumes against the closure of rural schools.”

Dumfriesshire MSP Oliver Mundell has paid tribute to campaigners.

Mr Mundell said: “A pause in this process is to be very much welcomed. Like Conservative councillors I have been opposed to this ridiculous fools errand from the start. Once again it shows how out of touch some councillors on Dumfries and Galloway Council are with local opinion.

“Rather than try and backtrack and save face, the council should just take these proposals off the table altogether and let our teachers get back to doing what they do best; serving our rural communities.”

South Scotland Labour MSP Colin Smyth said: “The process has seen a fantastic response from local communities in each area who have displayed the passion they have for their local schools. When a school roll falls significantly then sadly shutting a school is sometimes the only option but that isn’t the case with these schools where numbers are on the rise and parents strongly oppose closure. In my submission to the consultation I made the point that school rolls would actually be higher in each school but some parents had understandably chosen to send their kids elsewhere because they were worried the school would close. The council should therefore now completely remove the possibility of closure which has dangling over these schools and that will give more parents the confidence to send their kids to their local school”.

“I would also urge parents and local communities to keep involved. I spoke to a number of residents during the process who admitted that the consultation meetings had been the first time they had been in the local school for years. The schools need to capture the enthusiasm they have seen from the community during this process and use it to get more people involved in the school.”

“Whilst its right not to close these schools, the public know that the council will now have to add the savings they would have made from closure to the list of cuts they have to find elsewhere. More and more people are waking up to the fact that councils across Scotland are having to make these types of tough decisions because Governments at UK and Scottish level are imposing massive cuts on local services. The public need to start to show the same level of fight against austerity as they rightly did to save schools and start to send a clear message to Government- no more cuts.”