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Campuses hit by diocesan divide

North Lanarkshire is facing mounting challenges in completing the final stages of its pound;150 million public private partnership (PPP) programme.

"A battle for the soul of North Lanarkshire" is how one council insider described the fractious dispute between the Roman Catholic Church and the council over joint primary school campuses.

As part of its Education 2010 project, the authority is proposing one of the most ambitious and sensitive expansions across the religious divide in Scotland by building seven schools with Catholic and non-Catholic pupils in separate accommodation but sharing the same site - and, in so doing, has exposed fissures within the Catholic hierarchy.

The seven campuses are based on a prototype that opened in Cumbernauld last year. The joint Cumbernauld primarySt Andrews primary campus, however, is in the Archdiocese of Glasgow while the rest of North Lanarkshire is in the Diocese of Motherwell.

The Cumbernauld campus has one public entrance, a shared office, library, gymnasium and dining hall and two adjacent staffrooms with a moveable partition that both staffs prefer to keep open. It received the Church's clear imprimatur when Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow officially opened St Andrews.

But the Motherwell diocese has rejected the Cumbernauld format as inadequate and is holding out for the "PirniehallSt David's" model in Edinburgh where the schools have separate entrances, staffrooms, staff toilets, libraries, gymnasia and nurseries, although they share a dining hall.

Frank Cassidy, chancellor of the Diocese of Motherwell, told The TES Scotland: "We have given up the valuable principle of stand-alone schools and the Catholic Education Commission has set out guidelines for joint campuses.

"The North Lanarkshire proposals, however, do not satisfy our aspirations.

We thought we were getting the Pirniehall model but this does not appear to be the case. We have made a submission to the authority and are awaiting a response."

Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said that the Bishops' Conference has concerns about "some of the confusions" which have arisen about joint campuses and is monitoring various discussions around the country.

Mr McGrath said: "While they have agreed in principle to the arrangement, each case is looked at on an individual basis."

Jim McCabe, leader of North Lanarkshire Council, and himself a practising Catholic, said he did not believe the Pirniehall site effectively maximised the available space, nor did it gain economies of scale. He held out hopes of a compromise but also identified a number of sticking points.

"The designs put forward by our two remaining PPP bidders do not include the Pirniehall design," Mr McCabe said, "but when we get to the stage of having one preferred bidder we hope to have some flexibility.

"However, I do not see the need for two separate adult entrances when the campus is being used by the local community. Nor do I recognise the need for separate libraries, and the gymnasium could have a moveable partition so that it could be used by either one class or two."

To add to the council's problems the local association of the Educational Institute of Scotland has instructed members to withdraw from the "meaningless consultation process" on PPP and some parent activists are continuing their campaign of opposition to the 2010 project.

Murdo Maciver, head of educational provision in North Lanarkshire, expressed "disappointment" at the union's decision and asked the new EIS leadership in the authority to reconsider.

A preferred bidder is expected to be announced in April with work starting in the summer.

Michael O'Neill, the authority's director of education, rejected suggestions that the present difficulties would result in substantial slippage of the timetable. "Education 2010 remains on schedule," Mr O'Neill declared.

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