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Building a better future

THERE is some substance to the assertion by Helen Law, the local authorities' education spokeswoman, that we are witnessing the biggest school building refurbishment programme "in living memory and the largest financial investment of all time".

Credit where it is due and those who lived through the Conservative era of hostility to local authority-run schools and year-on-year cuts in capital spending welcome the new agenda set by the Executive in its first four years in office. It is a significant measure of success that around 100 new or refurbished schools will be in place by the end of this year and that the next 15 years will see steady improvement. Ministers and authorities are signed up. Who says the Scottish Parliament does not deliver?

It is only within the past five years that administrations have begun to tackle the national disgrace of the rundown school estate. Local authorities had their hands tied, despite repeated complaints from parents and teachers about crumbling buildings. We have moved on.

Yet we still play with numbers. There is little need for ministers to fall back on their cumulative accounting tactics (page three) to oversell an idea to the electorate in the build-up to the May elections. They are investing. They are also largely investing through the public private partnership (PPP) programme, which many within the education community and outside continue to attack on principle and for practical long-term spending reasons. Other capital spending is still small beer in comparison.

A major omission in the estates strategy is reference to closing schools. That is inevitable. But at least authorities will be able to offer something for something this time round as they tackle gross under-occupancy. A smaller number of better built, better resourced schools is the way forward, as, for example, Dumfries and Galloway has already established. There is also ample scope for innovation in design and concept, such as Glasgow's all-embracing pre-12 schools. Opportunity knocks in the second Parliament.

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