Angus MP Kirstene Hair has backed Stracathro primary parents in their fight to keep the rural school open.
Ahead of a crunch public meeting on Tuesday, Conservative Ms Hair has set herself on a potential collision course with party colleagues on the ruling Angus Council coalition by declaring the loss of the “exceptional” primary would not be in the best interests of the pupils or the community.
She has told council chiefs the plan has caused distress in a rural community already feeling under siege from centralisation of services.
A blueprint unveiled at the beginning of the year by the local authority proposes shutting Stracathro, Tarfside and Lethnot schools, and sending pupils to an enhanced Edzell Primary as part of a controversial 30-year strategy.
The plan has been bitterly opposed by parents who demanded a showdown meeting with council chiefs. It is due to take place on Tuesday evening in Edzell’s Inglis Hall after the authority switched the event to a larger venue.
The process has also been marred by claims the suitability survey carried out by the local authority was ‘invalid’ and should be rendered ‘null and void’.
Council leader Bob Myles also came under early fire from parents who said he had told them at a pre-consultation meeting Stracathro was not under threat.
Ms Hair said she has been contacted directly by a number of parents who have expressed concerns about the future of Stracathro, and has written to council chief executive Margo Williamson to make the case for the school’s retention.
In her letter to the local authority, the Angus MP said: “As you are aware, the proposed closure of several rural schools in the Brechin locality has produced an understandable degree of distress amongst my constituents.
“For many, this change is simply part of a broader centralisation of public services that has left many in rural settings feeling increasingly isolated.
“Angus Council justifies the potential closure of Stracathro by claiming that a new system will ensure children have access to greater opportunities.
“I agree that our chief concern should always be the children of Angus receiving the highest standard of education possible.
“However, in this matter, I do not agree that the closure is in the best interests of the pupils or the community.”
Ms Hair outlined several points that parents have made to bolster their case for retaining the school.
Campaigners say the school, while small, is a focal point for the local community and provides a centre for families to interact with neighbours.
In her letter, Ms Hair also points to “exceptional” levels of academic achievement at Stracathro and the strong partnership working with other nearby schools.
Parents have also questioned the financial savings to be made by building the proposed expansion at Edzell school when Stracathro only has a small annual maintenance budget.
Ms Hair, who held a meeting with parents and local councillors when the consultation was announced, added: “I have listened to the arguments of parents and carers with children at the school and I believe there is a strong case for keeping this school open.”
Angus Council has extended the consultation period for representations on the school closure.
A spokeswoman for the authority said: “Due to an omission in the narrative explaining our financial figures, we will be extending the consultation period to give the public time to consider the additional information.
“As our proposal is based on providing the best quality learning environments for all of our children and young people, and not on financial considerations, we have determined that this omission is not a material consideration.
“To give people the opportunity to consider this additional information we are extending the consultation period to 5pm on Friday 11 May 2018.”