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8 November 2014, 06:00
An independent panel which could have the final say on controversial school closure plans in Scotland is looking for its first members.
Applications are now open for the body, with members of the public being encouraged to put themselves forward for approximately 10 positions on it.
It comes after changes to the way councils' school closure plans are dealt with were approved by Holyrood.
At the moment Scottish ministers can call in a proposal by a local authority to shut a school, before then going on to make the final decision on whether or not it should remain open.
But from spring next year the responsibility will be transferred to the new independent panel, as part of changes included in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.
The new panel will review the cases that are called in by ministers before making a final determination.
Panel members will be able to either back the closure and give it their consent, with or without imposing conditions. They can also refer the matter back to the council to consider again, or refuse the closure.
Education Secretary Mike Russell said: "This is a welcome change to the legislation as it ensures the final decision on a school closure proposal which has been called in will be taken by an independent panel.
"I would encourage people from all professions and backgrounds to apply for these positions and, while knowledge of the education sector or regulatory systems would be of benefit, full training will be given to all panel members.
"Clearly, local authorities are best placed to consider how to deliver services across their communities and sometimes it is necessary to close a school. However, the new legislation strengthens and increases transparency in these far-reaching decisions, and the School Closure Review Panel has a very important role to play.''