HIGHLAND Council convener Peter Peacock insisted yesterday that there was no question of the council halting the process which could see the closure of up to 10 primary schools, mostly in rural areas.

At the weekend, Scottish Education Minister Brian Wilson made clear that rural schools should not be closed purely on financial grounds, and that education authorities should consider whether the educational and financial gains of school closure outweighed the negative effect on the rural communities they served.

In the wake of his statement, Highland MPs Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness West) and David Stewart (Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber) called on Highland Council to rethink its school rationalisation programme.

The Highland Council is currently conducting public consultations over the proposed closure of 10 primaries: Loch Choire in Sutherland; Achnasheen, Newmore (Invergordon), Mulbuie, Tore and Inverasdale all in Ross-shire; Bishop Eden's in Inverness; Kensaleyre in Skye; Roy Bridge and Kilmonivaig in Lochaber. The last two are due to be merged once a new school is built in Spean Bridge.

Mr Kennedy has now written to Mr Peacock: ''The Minister could not have been more clear cut, and correct. On every objective criterion he applies, the case cannot be made for the rural primary school closures now being contemplated, both within my own constituency and across Highland Council as a whole.

''I am visiting each threatened primary school in my own seat. The case for closure in every instance is primarily financial, insufficient grounds to proceed according to the Scottish Education Minister.

''Additionally, given the fragile nature of many of the rural communities involved, there is no doubt that the educational and social damage done would indeed far outweigh any potential financial savings.''

Mr Kennedy appealed to Mr Peacock to leave this matter until the Scottish Parliament had an opportunity to formulate a policy on rural schools.

Mr Stewart agreed that the policy should be reconsidered: ''Many rural schools are the hub of their local communities and any financial benefits from their closure would be far outweighed by the impact on rural areas.''

In addition, Mr Stewart said that the case had not been made to close Bishop Eden's Primary School in Inverness which was at 80% capacity. As a denominational Episcopalian school, it was entitled to further consideration.

''The school cannot be closed without the approval of the Scottish Secretary, and I will do everything in my power to ensure it remains open.''

Mr Peacock, however, has now written to council education convener Val MacIver saying he believes Mr Wilson's comments on rural schools firmly endorsed the approach adopted by the Highland Council: ''Given Mr Wilson's comments, there is no case for us altering the programme of rationalisation we are currently considering. It is worth stressing again that this rationalisation programme is not driven by savings.

''The council has made no allowance in its budget for 1998/99 for the money which would be saved by closures. Instead, any monies saved would be used to buy new, additional education services for pupils whose educational experience could be improved.

''This rationalisation programme is driven by the desire to secure educational advantage for our pupils. It is part of an ongoing exercise to ensure that we are spending our limited education resources in the most effective way.''

He said a report on the consultation exercise would be presented to a special meeting of the education committee on April 23.

q PARENTS of a threatened primary school yesterday insisted they may occupy the building in a last ditch effort to save it from closure. Parents at Kinbuck Primary School near Dunblane, Perthshire, will meet tonight in light of Mr Wilson's comments.

Yesterday Mr Dave Garrell, who has two daughters at the school, said: ''We will sit down and discuss what we can do at that meeting but stronger action such as occupation cannot be ruled out. We feel our tiny community has had the heart ripped out of it.''

Yesterday Stirling Council insisted the decision to close the schools would not be reversed.