The provision of education in Scotland is the responsibility of local authorities who are under statutory obligation to provide adequate and efficient education within their area. In that context, all Scottish local authorities are entitled to make changes to their school stock in response to changes in population patterns.
The Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 (“the 2010 Act”) sets out the legislative process which local authorities must follow when proposing a change to its school estate, and this includes school closures. Section 15 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 has brought changes to the 2010 Act which will further strengthen the process.
The process which a local authority proposing to close a school in its area must follow, and the power of Ministerial Call-in is described in detail on the Scottish Government website. The Statutory Guidance on the 2010 Act, which was published in May 2015, can also be found here:
Throughout the process, statutory deadlines are calculated beginning on the day on which the call in notice was issued and, in other circumstances, beginning on the day on which the Panel was constituted.
For the avoidance of doubt, the day quoted in legislation is day one, and where the deadline is a number of days, this is calendar days not working days. Therefore:
- If the call-in notice was issued on Monday 2 March, the Convenor must constitute a Panel within 7 days, which would mean the statutory deadline is Sunday 8 March
- If the Panel was constituted on Sunday 8 March, the Panel would be required to notify the local authority of its decision within 8 weeks, or if necessary, 16 weeks. Using this working example, the deadlines would be 3 May and 28 June, respectively.
- These deadlines are prescribed by legislation, therefore the Convener has no locus to amend them.
The Scottish Ministers are required to publish (a) an explanation of how rural schools are categorised and (b) a list of all rural schools in Scotland. These can be found at: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Education/Schools/Buildings/changestoschoolestate/rural
These categories are important in the context of the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010, because the 2010 Act contains special provision for consultations relating to rural schools. These provisions have been further strengthened by the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, which has expanded the steps which must be taken by local authorities in proposing to close a rural school. The legislative provision for rural schools is set out at sections 11, 12, 13 and 14 of the 2010 Act.
As set out within the Process section, the Panels are tasked with considering:
- whether the education authority has failed in a significant regard to comply with the requirements imposed on it by (or under) this Act so far as they are relevant in relation to the proposal; and / or
- whether the education authority has failed to take proper account of a material consideration relevant to its decision to implement the proposal.
- in handling the call-in of a closure decision relating to a rural school, the “requirements” include the rural factors within the 2010 Act.