Chapter 1: Setting the context
1. The Commission has sought to ensure its work reflects the context in which communities are living and working. The last five years have led to historic and unprecedented partnership working between national and local government in Scotland, but have also provided one of the most economically challenging climates in which to deliver public services. Following the Concordat of 2007, Scottish and local government have worked together in partnership to ensure the achievement of a number of key national and local outcomes. However, with demand for services on the increase and budgets decreasing in real terms, it has become necessary for many local authorities to consider their school estate, along with other key areas of local authority spend, as ways of meeting the efficiency agenda and ensuring that they deliver Best Value.
2. The Commission was challenged to "examine how the delivery of rural education can maximise attainment and outcomes to give pupils the best life chances, and to examine, where appropriate, how this can be applied more widely". This is a broad remit around outcomes rather than a narrow focus on process and criteria, and that is how the Commission has approached its work.
3. The Commission considered there to be four specific national and local outcomes to be particularly relevant to maximising educational attainment and achievement whilst supporting rural sustainability. These are:
- National Outcome 4 - "Our young people are successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens."
- National Outcome 5 - "Our children have the best start in life and are ready to succeed."
- National Outcome 10 - "We live in well-designed, sustainable places where we are able to access the amenities and services we need."
- National Outcome 11 - "We have strong, resilient and supportive communities where people take responsibility for their own actions and how they affect others."
4. As part of the requirement to monitor the outcomes for communities, there are a number of national performance indicators which cover educational attainment, positive destinations for school leavers and improving children's services. However, there is no reflection of the particular challenges faced by children and young people in rural areas within this body of indicators. Moreover throughout its interaction with rural communities, it became clear to the Commission that the key issue was rural regeneration - taking place in some areas; and earnestly desired in others.
5. The Commission recognises that various policies are in place to promote rural development, most especially through the Scottish Rural Development Programme, but also through the policies of enterprise support delivered through Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, as well as council economic development activities. The Commission concurs with the 2008 OECD report on Scotland that argues for a more integrated, multi-sectoral and place-based approach to rural development which recognises the great variations in wellbeing across rural Scotland and the particular challenges of fragile areas. The Commission believes that the regeneration challenge has taken on even greater significance in view of the impact of the financial crisis and recession and that a more integrated approach to rural regeneration is urgently needed. Our first recommendation is that the Scottish Government and local authorities should agree a coherent and integrated rural regeneration strategy to support social and economic outcomes for rural areas.
The Scottish Government and local authorities should agree a coherent rural regeneration strategy to support economic outcomes for rural areas.