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Board chief favours closing 42 schools

Ann Hill, chief executive of the Scottish School Board Association, has backed initial plans to close 42 primaries in Dumfries and Galloway if the authority can persuade parents it can produce a better education service.

"My biggest fear is that councillors will not bite the bullet," Mrs Hill said after the authority revealed a consultants' report on future provision that aims to sweep away a third of small rural primaries.

Consultants Turner and Townsend spent nine months on the review and propose a public private partnership investment of pound;70 million, which would build nine new primaries and refurbish many others but close 42 in a strategy for the next decade.

They also propose close scrutiny of the 90-pupil Dalry Secondary, whose roll is set to drop by a quarter over the next five years, and suggest the possible loss of one secondary in Dumfries. There are currently four but Dumfries Academy or the smaller Maxwellton High could close, merge or face a new-build.

Mrs Hill, a school board member at Mouswald primary, one of hose which faces the axe, said the authority had carried out the review against agreed criteria and following consultation. School boards had been kept informed.

"It's not something anybody should fear but they have to go into this with an open mind, realising that some or all of the 42 schools could close. I think this time the authority has done everything in the proper way up until now," she said.

But it would be up to the council to prove it could produce better schools. Mrs Hill warned there would be few savings from closing rural primaries.

Fraser Sanderson, director of education, said the background was a 12 per cent fall in primary rolls over the next five years, the need to upgrade the schools for a changing curriculum and the backlog of repairs and maintenance. Traditional primary classrooms were not designed to take several computers in a tight space.

"Some schools are running out of children and projected enrolments are very small. Their viability will be called into question," Mr Sanderson added.

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