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Cull on secondary places leaves parents stranded

Parents in East Dunbartonshire and Glasgow have reacted furiously to plans by East Dunbartonshire to slash the size of its secondary schools.

As part of a rebuilding strategy, the Liberal Democrat-controlled authority has decided to cap intakes to S1 next session as the first step in moving to a leaner pattern of modern schools by 2008. Hundreds of places in first-year classes are being removed from August.

That has sparked immediate border skirmishes in Bishopbriggs - where East Dunbartonshire and Glasgow meet - and in the Robroyston area of the city where developers have built new housing. Families who moved in thought they would be entitled under the placing request legislation to easy access to their neighbouring authority's schools.

Now they are realising that they have collided with East Dunbartonshire's roll capping manoeuvres. One in five pupils in East Dunbartonshire currently comes from outwith council boundaries, mostly from Glasgow but some from North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire.

East Dunbartonshire denies, as some parents claim, that its underlying policy is "East Dunbartonshire schools for East Dunbartonshire pupils".

John Morrison, the council's leader, said that by 2016 its school population would drop by 21 per cent and that its massive building programme would have to take that into account. The cost of 100 extra places would be pound;1.6 million and it was important to remove surplus capacity.

"The number of placing requests we get is unpredictable and we can't guarantee that they will continue, especially as our neighbouring councils are currently opening new schools which may be equally attractive," Mr Morrison said.

This spring the authority had accepted 243 secondary requests and turned down 234, he said, some from within the authority, others outwith.

Gordon Fairweather, a spokesman for school boards in East Dunbartonshire, said that the plans were "stifling parental choice". Parents had been kept in the dark until it was too late. Boards are pressing for any policy to start in P1 and not S1 to allow parents to buy time.

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