Glasgow breaks with the past

'A breathtaking commitment which no other education authority in Britain has attempted'

Glasgow's education leaders have their fingers firmly crossed this week in the hope that the remarkably supportive reaction to their Pounds 53 million reform package will hold once eight secondaries threatened with closure are identified.

The hit list is likely to emerge on November 3 after a meeting of the ruling Labour group. Public consultations on individual schools will follow quickly to convince the Scottish Office that Glasgow should get the bulk of the Government's Pounds 15 million sweetener to encourage rationalisation, which is only available for next year.

Malcolm Green, the city's education convener, unveiled what is being billed as the modernising of comprehensive education at a press conference on Monday. He said the plan was "a strategy for investment and for improving achievement, although I know it will be presented as a strategy for closure. But it is about spending our existing resources better and levering in extra resources. "

The strategy includes improving parent choice, expanding the curriculum to link with employment, college and university, creating specialist schools, enhancing staffing, investing in new technology and providing additional transport.

Dr Green described this as "a breathtaking commitment which no other education authority in Britain has attempted. It is a very exciting time to be involved in education in Glasgow."

The policy is, however, dependent on Pounds 40 million of the total three-year costs of new buildings, upgraded accommodation and modern technology being unlocked from the private sector under the public-private partnership initiative. Although there are no indications of how realistic this is, the initial reaction is encouraging.

Gill Mackay, chairperson of the Educational Institute of Scotland in Glasgow, praised the long-term strategy of putting education centre-stage. "Provided savings are recycled and there are additional resources, we are prepared to work with the council. Things cannot go on as they are. We now face minimum staffing standards, resources pared to the bone, many schools not offering the full curriculum, and another round of piecemeal cuts next year," Ms Mackay said.

The EIS, however, will expect teachers in affected schools to be offered proper career opportunities, generous transfer packages and training. Dr Green assured staff that speed would be of the essence to avoid demoralisation.

Fred McEvilly, Glasgow secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said teachers were agreed that resources should be directed towards teaching not half-empty buildings. The main pressure would come from parents, faced with moving their children farther afield.

David Hutchison, president of the Scottish School Board Association, backed the council and hoped parents would react rationally, "acknowledging that this is not about cost-cutting but about reinvesting in education in imaginative and innovative ways".

The new Labour leadership in Glasgow now accepts the view of Chris Mason, leader of the Liberal Democrats and a long-standing critic of previous school reorganisations, that "a uniform pattern of comprehensive schools does not produce comprehensive education". Although the unions have reservations about the creation of specialist schools, Dr Mason welcomed "the willingness to allow schools to play to their strengths".

Dr Mason said: "No doubt there will be the usual campaign against 'the cuts'. What I say is, 'No, you will be campaigning to defend buildings and destroy education'."

Dr Green said he had been assured personally that the Labour leadership was committed to the reforms. Frank McAveety, the council's new leader, said Glasgow had "to get its act together" in response to the prospect of significant funding. The Scottish Office is unlikely to sanction any private cash deal unless the city clears out its surplus pupil capacity, currently running at 40 per cent in secondary schools.

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