At a meeting of the local authority’s education and learning committee on Wednesday, chairman Jeff Leaver was quizzed over the publication of data which shows around a quarter of the region’s schools are operating at less than 50 per cent of capacity.
But he insisted that the publication of the figures did not reflect any intention to close schools in the latest round of budget proposals, which are expected to be presented to full council at the end of next month.
At the meeting Stranraer and Rhins councillor Willie Scobie said he and his fellow ward members had met with parents and staff who have “huge concerns” about the publication of this data. He said: “A cynic would come to the conclusion that the publication of this just before the budget gives an indication that the move is towards closing schools. The people we met with are concerned that closure is imminent. Consultation over this will be a huge issue and will take a long, long time. “The timing of this, I think, has been deliberate.”
Responding, Mr Leaver said he believes all councillors agree that Dumfries and Galloway has an ageing population and that many of the schools which are operating below capacity are there because of their historic populations. He continued: “We are not alone in this, a lot of authorities are having to carry out this analysis. We cannot close schools on economic grounds, it has to be on educational grounds. “We are not considering any closures in the near future.”
He added that, although the educational benefits of small schools are recognised, they are generally more expensive to keep open than larger schools, and he called for a “parity of resources” in education across the region.
Committee members had originally been asked to agree to updated capacities for the region’s primary and secondary schools, but they instead noted the capacities and instructed council officers to carry out further work with head teachers to ensure capacity and school roll figures are accurate. The meeting also agreed that council officers will arrange a members’ seminar where councillors can discuss the issues surrounding school capacity more fully.