Rural school cost cuts plea

A plea has been made for Audit Scotland to be brought in to ensure the costs of closing rural schools is accurately calculated, writes Kenny Paterson.

Paul Docherty, the chair of Channelkirk School board in 2005 when it was threatened with closure, made the call this week after the Scottish Government announced it was launching a consultation on the country’s rural schools network. It will discuss whether financial information on the impact of shutting a school should be put forward by the council involved.

The review follows evidence from the Scottish Rural Schools Network (SRSN) in April that Scottish Borders Council benefits by £1.5 million a year from its countryside schools.

SRSN’s findings were in response to a report by the Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education which showed Channelkirk brings in £213,000 per annum through grant-aided expenditure. The figure opposed the findings of education director Glenn Rodger, who said at the time the council could save £1m over an eight-year period by shutting the school.

Now Mr Docherty thinks greater financial scrutiny is needed. He said: “What I want to see from the consultation is firstly, a standardised and very simple form detailing the costs of each school which includes the grant provided; and secondly, I want a truly independent body – possibly Audit Scotland – to look at the figures, check them and sign them off as accurate.”

The Scottish Government’s education secretary Mike Russell said: “I want to ensure we have measures in place to protect and enhance rural schools, while still providing councils with the flexibility they need.”