Cumbernauld's MSP takes the Gregory's Girl school closure plans to the Scottish Parliament
Written by Scott Campbell.
 
 
Published at 18:53 GMT on Tuesday 26th February, 2013.
Picture is copyright of Scott Campbell/ Cumbernauld Media.
 
CUMBERNAULD and Kilsyth’s MSP has raised the issue of Abronhill High School at the Scottish Parliament.
 
SNP MSP for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Jamie Hepburn raised the issue of the procedures that local authorities must follow when closing schools with the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, earlier this week.
 
North Lanarkshire Council earlier this month approved the closure of Abronhill High School and the transfer of pupils there to Cumbernauld High effective from the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, despite Education Scotland – the official body tasked with inspecting Scotland’s schools and assessing local authority plans to change schools provision – issuing a very critical response to the Council’s plans.
 
Mr Hepburn took the opportunity at last week's General Question Time in the Scottish Parliament to raise the issue of the importance that is placed on Education Scotland reports on any local authority plans to close schools, and quoted directly from the specific report that Education Scotland issued in response to North Lanarkshire Council’s plans for Abronhill and Cumbernauld High Schools.
 
 
 
The text of Mr Hepburn’s exchange with Michael Russell MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning was as follows:
 
Jamie Hepburn (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what importance is placed on Education Scotland’s findings on local authority plans to close schools. (S4O-01821)
 
The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning (Michael Russell): The Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 makes it clear that educational benefits should be a key consideration when an education authority proposes a significant change to its schools estate. When an education authority proposes a school closure, there is a statutory requirement that it must provide an educational benefits statement, and Education Scotland must provide an independent report on the educational aspects.
 
The Education Scotland report, along with the education authority’s proposal paper, the consultation report and any representations that are received, are all considered when it is determined whether Scottish ministers should call in a school closure proposal, where it appears to them that a council might have failed in a significant regard to comply with statutory requirements, or to take proper account of a material consideration.
 
Jamie Hepburn: Where Education Scotland finds that a proposal does not give sufficient consideration to the impact on the local community of closing a school; where it takes the view that closure might have a detrimental impact on the education of some young people, particularly those with additional support needs, who require careful transition planning; where it finds that stakeholders are justifiably concerned about the timescale for implementation and the lack of evidence on the possible detrimental effect on young people’s education; and where it finds that concerns about the walking route are also justified, would the cabinet secretary expect any local authority to amend its proposals significantly?
 
Michael Russell: Once Education Scotland has submitted a report containing such information, the education authority must explain, in its final consultation report, how it has reviewed its proposal in the light of the Education Scotland report, and of any other representations that it has received. In determining a school closure case, I will of course look closely at the Education Scotland report and the authority’s response to it, along with the other relevant documentation.
 
Commenting outside the chamber, the town’s MSP said: “I was heartened by the response of the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning.  He was able to clearly set out that the Education Scotland report that is issued in response to any plan by any local authority is an important part of the process involved.
 
“Specifically, Mike Russell was able to set out that it is contingent on any local authority to explain how it has reviews its proposals on the back of any Education Scotland report.
“In that regard, North Lanarkshire Council has singularly failed to properly take account of the myriad concerns of Education Scotland about the nature of their proposal to close Abronhill High and move pupils there to Cumbernauld High.
 
“Education Scotland were quite clear that the proposals failed to offer educational benefit, particularly to those pupils with additional needs; didn’t take account of the impact on the community of the loss of Abronhill High, and was unable to offer reassurance to the concerns expressed about walking routes to Cumbernauld High from Abronhill.
 
“As such, I believe that there has to be a strong case for the call-in of the decision by North Lanarkshire to proceed with their wrong-headed plan to close Abronhill High and transfer pupils to Cumbernauld High, and I will be making that request imminently.”
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