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Kirk prays for tolerance over closures

Neil Munro reports from the General Assembly in Edinburgh as the Church of Scotland enters the bitter debate over the future of schools in Glasgow. Glasgow's struggle to close schools hit the floor of last week's General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. David Alexander, Strathclyde's former senior depute director of education, pleaded with his fellow commissioners not to take an entrenched line on school closures.

Mr Alexander, an elder in Hamilton Presbytery, said the motivation for closures was often shifts in population and falling rolls rather than a desire to make savings. The Church should be aware of the difficulties facing local authorities. Mr Alexander was backed by Drew Blake, the Church's education convener.

The Assembly agreed not to support an emotional plea from the Rev Allan McWilliam of Scotstoun and Whiteinch that it should write to all 32 new authorities asking them not to rush decisions to close schools. Mr McWilliam is a chaplain to Whiteinch primary in Glasgow, originally targeted for closure and later reprieved.

The commissioners also refused to back a move by an East Kilbride minister to establish denominational schools on an experimental basis. The Rev David Currie said this was a response to dwindling numbers attending Sunday school and the lack of emphasis on Christianity in the curriculum.

But Mr Blake warned: "I shudder at the road we could go down." He acknowledged, however, that RE in secondary schools faced crisis with cuts in advisers, departments and principal teachers. "Ironically, although RE is one of the most cost-effective subjects to teach, it remains one of the most vulnerable areas of the curriculum when cuts are imposed," Mr Blake said. The Assembly agreed to raise the issue once more with the Scottish Office.

* The Rev David Arnott, convener of the committee on education for the ministry, warned delegates that student hardships was "a highly influential factor" in declining numbers applying for the ministry. The number of candidates fell from 161 in 1993 to 105 this year.

The committee's report stated that two-thirds were married and a third had children to support. The Assembly agreed to urge the Government to take "immediate action to bring forward proposals for improving the present system of support for students in full-time higher education".

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