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Schools close, but no more new builds

Glasgow City Council plans to close 13 primaries and 12 nurseries this summer, but the 2,000 children affected will not move into new schools because the authority cannot afford to build them.

Instead, Steven Purcell, the council leader, announced this week, that it will transfer the children into existing schools to be refurbished at a cost of Pounds 5 million. "The schools and nurseries identified are crumbling and half-empty," he said. "Children deserve better accommodation, but in this financial climate we cannot afford to build new ones through prudential borrowing.

"In addition, the Scottish Government refuses to use public private partnership funding and there is no sign of its suggested replacement - the Scottish Futures Trust - being able to provide what we need. Our only option is to merge schools and nurseries."

The plan, however, runs the risk of breaching the Scottish Government's target of maximum class sizes of 18 pupils in P1-3.

But Councillor Purcell pointed to the council's education commission findings of two years ago, which argued that a good teacher would "overcome the numbers game".

Nurture classes and the council's enhanced support for literacy and numeracy were more important factors in raising attainment than cutting class sizes to 18, he argued.

Most of the schools targeted have an occupancy level of around 40 per cent. The merged schools would be 70-75 per cent full. That could still require the creation of some composite classes, he admitted, but fewer than in the existing schools.

The council has pledged there would be no compulsory redundancies as a result of the mergers, and negotiations would begin shortly with unions about the staffing implications. "We are confident from early discussions with trade unions that there will be enough people seeking voluntary severance, partly because this is an ageing population," said Margaret Doran, executive director of children and families.

Willie Hart, Glasgow area secretary for the Educational Institute of Scotland, said his union would co-operate with the plan as long as savings were reinvested in schools and teachers' conditions of employment were protected. He called on the council to use the savings to cut class sizes. "The one negative feature about the reorganisation in the past has been that some children have gone from a class of 15 or 20 pupils to one of 25 or 30," he said. "That does not represent progress."

If the plan is approved by the executive committee today, the proposals will go out for consultation to staff and parents. Mr Purcell hopes to pull down the sub-standard schools and nurseries over the summer holidays. In the current economic climate, the council does not envisage being able to sell the land.

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