This February, Dumfries and Galloway Council voted to increase the number of pupils in a single teacher primary school from 19 to 25, based on projected school rolls for this forthcoming year.
The decision was put into effect immediately, and caps placed on affected schools by the Education Department.
While the Council’s decision is within the guidelines set by the Scottish Government, it has been taken to its legal limit. When applied to the rural primary school setting, the impact is huge. One teacher will be in sole charge of a whole school composite class, with 25 pupils ranging in age from 4 – 12, encompassing multi-level teaching and varying support needs.
Risk assessments have not been carried out for this scenario, and it seems apparent that the practicalities of leaving one member of staff in charge of an entire school will not be safe or practical – or, indeed, able to provide a satisfactory level of learning for children in the region. Intentional or not, this decision will clearly set smaller schools up to fail.
The decision is unprecedented in Scotland and has been described by the EIS as ‘closure by the back door’. It has led to the resignation of experienced council members and has been rejected by local councillors and MSPs, as well as hundreds of parents and local citizens, who have sent upwards of a thousand emails condemning the decision.
We believe that the Council made this decision without due parental consultation or full understanding of the negative impact this will have on our pupils, teachers and our communities. Indeed, we believe this decision is putting our children and teachers at risk.
We believe that the impacts go against the Scottish Government’s own agenda for rural communities, for closing the poverty gap and raising pupil attainment.
Our small schools are at the heart of our communities and we believe that retaining two-teacher schools wherever possible is vital to the viability of rural communities. We need to fight to safeguard the quality and availability of education within our communities, for our children at school now and for future generations to come.