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Edinburgh bids to soften closure blow

Edinburgh City Council is set to raise the stakes in the national round of school closures by transferring resources to infant teaching in any newly merged primary.

It hopes to win parents to its rationalisation scheme by employing nursery nurses to work with P1-P3 classes, giving pupils in many disadvantaged communities the best possible start.

The Labour council wants to assimilate the lessons of its early intervention strategies, which were piloted successfully in four primaries on the north side of the city, and transfer the focus of teaching to the youngest classes.

Elizabeth Maginnis, education convener, said the closure programme would give the council a chance to tackle class sizes in the early years - a key Labour strategy nationally. "This will begin a process of investment in P1-P3. We will provide nursery nurses for the infant classes in merged schools and there will be a definite bonus in class-size terms for the merged school. It will help in the process of teaching and learning," she said.

Councillors, who are drawing up closure plans likely to target 10 schools, anticipate strong opposition from primary parents but are prepared to fight back with their infant strategy and by deploying evidence from previous closures.

Mrs Maginnis claimed teachers, especially headteachers, would benefit in a merged school. "It's particularly stressful for heads in small primary schools. More often than not they have a class-teaching commitment, as well as covering for absences. If you've got more management time in a merged school, you've got a better delivered curriculum," she argued.

She added that composite classes in small primaries meant a constantly changing population, while many smaller schools were "not robust enough preparation" for secondary.

She acknowledged she would face parental arguments about smaller class sizes in the smaller school but this had to be balanced against the narrower social mix. Larger primaries were better able to provide a range of extra-curricular activities such as choirs and netball teams.

Meanwhile, in Glasgow, closure plans for the south side of the city have been undermined by eight Labour councillors who have petitioned the leadership to scale down the effect on four primaries and one secondary in the Govan area. The councillors include Mohammed Sarwar, who is at the centre of the dispute over the Labour nomination for the Govan constituency, and Deirdre Gaughan, previously a successful campaigner for St Gerard's Secondary which is again under threat. Consultations with parents and teachers are continuing all over the city as the council seeks 21 closures and savings of Pounds 3.2 million this year.

Two other councils, Angus and the Western Isles, this week joined the fray. Angus wants to close its smallest school, Clova Primary in the remote Glen Clova. From August its roll would be cut by 50 per cent to one pupil. Padanaram Primary, near Forfar, a P1-P4 school is the other target: from August it would have only four pupils.

The Western Isles education committee on Tuesday agreed to close the four-pupil Galson Primary in Lewis and the secondary department of Scalpay School. The five Scalpay pupils will be transferred to the Sir E Scott School in Tarbet. Councillors backed away temporarily from closing the secondary department of Leverhulme Memorial School in Harris.

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