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More clarity needed on potential school closures

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By Marc McLean, local democracy reporter
More clarity needed on potential school closures

COUNCIL chiefs need to be more open and transparent with parents and staff about potential school closures in Dumfries and Galloway, a councillor insisted last week.

Transforming the schools estate was discussed at Dumfries and Galloway Council’s education committee last week as a colossal 500-plus page document was tabled on this single issue.

Plenty of statistics and background information were given, but no clarity as yet on the future of the region’s 98 primary and 16 secondary schools.

There is uncertainty because many rural schools don’t fit into a new model being proposed, which will demand that schools must meet ten new criteria which includes occupancy rates, travel distance, and staffing levels.

With school rolls falling and buildings deteriorating, education bosses insist that this proposed new school model is essential to “future proof the schools estate” and meet Scottish Government objectives.

However, Mid and Upper Nithsdale Councillor Jim Dempster has called on education chiefs conducting this review to be more upfront with those affected about possible consequences for their school.

Speaking at last week’s committee, Councillor Dempster said: “Instead of having some vague approach, if we’re deciding that schools should close – then we should be saying that.

“Not just leaving the threat, which Councillor Scobie has been talking about, or the adverse publicity that will come on the back of this.

“We need to be open and transparent with the public, and tell them exactly what we are proposing, and not have a salami-slicing arrangement with schools.”

It was reported last week that the new school model put dozens of schools at risk of closure because their school roll falls short of the minimum 60 percent capacity.

While it is still early stages and no decisions have been made, the potential for a series of closures could not be ruled out.

Larann Foss, the schools’ property manager, produced the lengthy report, and said: “There’s a list of things that will happen because of a school being identified in a position on that sustainability list.

“These are all different things that could take place. One of them, which was the focus from the media’s perspective, was the rationalisation through closure and amalgamation.

“That has to be a reality. That has to be an option for members’ consideration.

“We’ll see that later on today’s agenda where there are a number of schools which fall into that category.

“What we are suggesting though in today’s paper, and particularly what will come forward in December, are options and choices around what the future looks like for those schools.”

Stranraer and the Rhins Councillor Willie Scobie said: “This does not allay the fears that are going to be out there.”

Another report will be brought back to the education committee in December with more detail on potential changes. Councillors also agreed to attend a seminar for further explanation of the proposed school model process.


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