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Shared sites still lack appeal

Joint campuses for secondaries of all denominations may be fine in ministerial theory but are less popular in local authority practice, reports John Cairney

Combined sites for Roman Catholic and non-denominational schools may be popular with Jack McConnell, the First Minister, but they have yet to catch on in his own local authority, at least in the secondary sector.

Proposals to build a secondary joint campus in Coatbridge as part of North Lanarkshire's public private partnership plans have been rejected following strong opposition by the school boards of two Catholic schools whose preference for separate denominational and non-denominational schools has been approved by the council.

But there was minimal opposition to the seven planned primary joint campuses across the authority but the proposal to merge St Patrick's High and Columba High "received no support at all", according to Michael O'Neill, education director, who described Coatbridge as "the most contentious" of all the areas the council had looked at.

The town has three Catholic and two non-denominational secondaries. Plans approved this week will see the numbers reduced by one in each sector.

After a six-week consultation, said to have produced a "low-key reaction", the school boards of St Patrick's and Columba campaigned against the proposed "super-school" through public meetings, a letter-writing campaign that involved 2,000 responses and a petition attracting 3,000 signatures which argued for the merger of the two Catholic schools.

Eric O'Neill, chair of St Patrick's school board, said there was "no social or financial imperative" for the joint campus and claimed "there is no support in Coatbridge" for it.

Both boards expressed concern about the logistics of siting up to 2,500 pupils on the joint site but there were other concerns. One parent said her biggest fear was that "Catholic education would be taken away from us".

A spokesman for the Motherwell diocese said the church accepted the need for joint campus schools in some rural areas where rolls did not justify building a separate school but numbers in Coatbridge secondaries supported a stand-alone denominational school.

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