School closure changes introduced

Protest Image copyright Ryan Main
Image caption Protests have been held against several school closures across Scotland in recent years

Changes to the way final decisions on school closures in Scotland are made have come into force.

A new independent panel now has the last say - not Scottish government ministers.

The changes were brought in through last year's Children and Young People Act.

The panel can block a closure, give it consent or ask a council to look at it again.

One driving force is to try to ensure that parents and communities have faith in the process being followed even if, inevitably, many decisions to close schools will prove highly controversial.

Until now, if Scottish government ministers "called in" a local authority proposal to close a school they would also then make a final decision in relation to the closure.

'Increases transparency'

The School Closure Review Panel now has responsibility for reviewing cases called and reaching a final determination.

The Scottish government said it hoped this will remove the scope for any suggestion of political considerations having influenced a decision.

The panel cannot overturn a closure decision simply because it disagrees with it. There would need to be a flaw or error in the process followed by the council or the information used to justify the closure.

Minister for Learning Alasdair Allan said: "The new panel strengthens and increases transparency in these far-reaching decisions, and it also removes the potential for any suggestion of decisions being influenced by political considerations.

"That is a perception that, despite the reality, is hard to refute; from today these decisions, rightly, will be taken away from the political spotlight and at arm's length from ministers."

'Important issue'

For each decision that is called in, the Convener of the School Closure Review Panel will be required to constitute a panel of three members. They are then required to reach a decision in eight weeks.

Convener Iain Nisbet said: "This is an important issue for education authorities and local communities alike, and I am looking forward to working with the panel members to deliver a fair, transparent and independent review process.

"Alongside amendments to the consultation process, updated guidance on participation of children in decisions affecting them and the introduction of a legislative presumption against the closure of rural schools, this represents a new phase in school closures and consultations."