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Councils act on 'enormous waste' of empty schools

More primary schools are facing the chop as Scottish Borders this week agreed to press ahead with consultations on four closures.

Small, rural schools in particular, where rolls are set to fall further, are being targeted after authorities were recently criticised by the Accounts Commission for slow progress in cutting down the number of empty desks.

In Borders, Cranshaws, Glen Douglas, Oxnam and Teviothead primaries are in danger of going the way of many other schools that authorities are dubbing unviable.

As part of the Scottish Executive-driven school estate strategy to bring schools up to modern standards, councils have been given the political nod to step up closure programmes with the offer of extra cash for new buildings.

David Parker, Borders Council leader, says in the introduction to the authority's estate strategy: "Far too many of our school buildings are in a very poor condition, with some lacking even the most basic facilities necessary to deliver the modern curriculum.

"For some schools the problems are that of overcrowding, while conversely in other areas we have schools that are half-empty which is an enormous waste."

The authority estimates that it will need around pound;150 million - pound;68 million of which could come through a public private partnership (PPP) initiative - to bring schools up to date. It acknowledges that this may be a conservative estimate.

At the eight-pupil Cranshaws primary, the building is said to need "considerable investment". A better option would be to transfer pupils to the larger Duns primary. Teviothead primary has only six pupils, while Glen Douglas and Oxnam have nine each and rolls are due to fall further.

Farther north in Angus, councillors were yesterday (Thursday) set to approve plans to consult on closing the 16-pupil Careston primary where the buildings "fall well short of the ideal specifications for a school in the 21st century".

The authority has advertised three times for a replacement head but failed to appoint.

It notes the difficulties in a one-teacher school. "It seems likely that one of the reasons that we have failed to attract sufficient numbers of suitable applicants for this post will relate to a legitimate perception that the job is an immensely challenging one," Angus states.

The cost per pupil at Careston is pound;4,775, against a council average of pound;2,480 and a Scottish average of pound;2,369. If the school closes, the authority would be expected to save pound;50,000. Neighbouring schools are around five miles away.

In urban areas, it is a similar story with Edinburgh due to tackle primaries that are grossly under-capacity or in need of serious renovation.

As the authority goes out to consultation, it wants to amalgamate 12 primaries, eventually losing six.

Other authorities such as Glasgow and Inverclyde have embarked on similar programmes to reduce their stock of primaries - but with the prospect of new schools for old.

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