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Anger as casting vote for Blairingone Primary closure falls to unelected members

Blairingone Primary School will close this summer.
Blairingone Primary School will close this summer.

A Perthshire primary school has been shut in controversial circumstances as the casting votes fell to unelected church representatives.

The decision to axe Blairingone Primary School in Kinross-shire was taken at Wednesday’s lifelong learning committee meeting, however the balance of the vote was flipped when unelected religious representatives swung the outcome in favour of closure.

Councillors votes were positioned at 7-6 in favour of saving the rural school, which currently has six pupils, but the votes of church representatives Pat Giles and Adrian Ferguson threw the vote in favour of the administration’s recommendation for closure.

Pupils will now start the next academic year at Fossoway Primary, almost five miles away.

Over the past few decades, the village has lost its shop, church, pub and village hall, with the school being the last remaining civic building.

The committee heard a passionate plea from a spokesperson from the school’s parent council who asked that the school be saved.

She said: “Without the school, there will be nothing left to entice families to the area and the village will dwindle.”

Councillors Michael Barnacle and Richard Watters both gave speeches highlighting expected growth in the area, with the former indicating that there is an interest to build up to 133 new houses in Crook of Devon, Powmill and Blairingone.

Council officers, however, explained that the short term growth in the area would only likely see the school roll increase by five pupils.

Former vice-convener of the committee, Callum Purves, stepped down from his position in order to lodge an amendment to keep the school, which is in his ward, open while investigating the viability of providing a nursery class to help boost numbers.

He said: “Closing a small rural school is the easy option.

“The hard decision and what takes real courage is to keep it open and to take an approach of innovation rather than rationalisation.

“There is no financial need to close Blairingone. The £85,000 worth of savings are minimal compared to the council’s roughly £330m budget.”

Mr Purves’ proposal was backed by the SNP and independent groups, but the deciding vote fell to the religious representatives.

Committee convener Caroline Shiers said she would like to see voting opened up to all unelected representatives, including youth members, teachers and parents.

She said: “This is not a decision we took lightly but the harsh reality is that parents are choosing to send their pupils elsewhere.

“I sympathise with the parents and whilst the decision is well-evidenced, it doesn’t make it any easier.

“This is a system that needs to be looked at. We have representatives who can take part in the debate but can’t vote, yet the church representatives can.

“I’d like to see voting opened up everyone in the committee. It would totally sway the councillors votes.”

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