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Declining school rolls means likely closures

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By Marc McLean, local democracy reporter
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Declining school rolls means likely closures

THE closure of numerous small rural schools across the region looks inevitable due to “significantly declining” school rolls.

And a teacher argued that such tough decisions are necessary to ensure that children get the best education possible.

Education chiefs at Dumfries and Galloway Council say that the occupancy of schools should be at least 60 percent of capacity.

However, a new report tabled at the council’s education committee last week revealed that 47 of 98 primary schools fall below this 60 percent figure, with two having an occupancy rate of just 15 percent. Five of the 98 schools are currently mothballed.

Of the 16 high schools, seven are below 60 percent occupancy. Dalry Secondary sits at just eight percent, with only 21 pupils out of a possible 248 on the 2023 school roll.

Stranraer and the Rhins Councillor Willie Scobie said that there is a “serious concern within communities” about the threat of school closures.

John Thin, the council’s head of education for learning and resources, said: “I think it’s important that members are aware of our school capacities.

“We are simply giving members the information that is important for them to make the best decisions they can.

“We are continuing to work on a longer term strategy to ensure that we’ve got a sustainable school estate across the whole region, and the young people get the best outcomes they can possibly get from their educational experience in our schools.

“Whilst at the same time, we are facing a significantly declining school population.

“Doing nothing isn’t an option. Hence we have to take proactive steps wherever possible, and sometimes it’s reactive steps.”

Julie Irving, who sits on the committee as a representative of primary teachers, said: “It might not make me popular with all the teachers across the authority but I understand we need to cut costs. We need to look at what’s best educationally for children, and being in these very small rural schools is not what’s best for them.

“We need children to be able to socialise. If you’re in a small school and you’ve got no peer group, where are your social skills developing?

“So, from a teacher’s perspective, I understand this. It makes sense.

“I would urge the councillors to be brave on this one.

“It’s not nice to be thinking about school closures, but actually if we want funding for children with additional support needs, and if we want to ensure that we’ve got quality education across the board for all our children, our schools need to be sustainable.”

Councillors agreed for education officers to carry out a review of the school estate and bring back a roadmap’ of recommended changes in May 2024.

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