Closure must be justified honestly;Opinion

15th May 1998 at 01:00
Glaswegians who pay the full council tax are delighted that the council is to close uneconomic schools. Those opposed to this policy are deluding themselves if they believe they can fight closure on educational or social grounds.

The Catholic Church's representative on the education committee, Peter Mullen, said that "pigs would fly before Notre Dame closes". At Glasgow airport a squadron of swine are taxiing on the runway ready for take-off in June.

I've been through school closure and lived. In 1992 one Catholic and two non-denominational secondary schools in Drumchapel were earmarked for closure. Each had a role of around 320. Not educationally viable, said the education committee chairman, Councillor Ian Davidson. Some months later he became the Labour M.P. in the marginal constituency of Govan, elected on a pledge to keep St. Gerard's Secondary open (role 250). Using his powers of political persuasiveness, the school was reprieved. Now ensconced in the safe seat of Pollok he agrees that St. Gerard's should close as it is "not viable".

Pupils in Drumchapel did not take kindly to the grand scheme. One sunny afternoon the children of all three schools went on strike and converged on my school's football field. The chant of "Save Our Schools" was soon replaced by the more familiar "If you hate the f* teachers clap your hands!" Inevitably the morale of pupils and staff plummeted. Teaching in the annexe 40 yards from the main building became hazardous. Neds hung around the entrance. Female teachers were eventually given an escort by the head. Fearing for my own safety I asked for a room in the main building. This request was reluctantly granted. But due to a janitorial problem, I personally had to hump 20 desks and chairs to the vacant room. A talent scout for Pickfords spotted me but I told him I did not want a career change. Where is he now when I need him?

Strange things started to happen. Windows which had been broken for months were repaired six weeks before the bulldozers were due. Break-ins became more frequent. Somebody looted the music department's security chest. A few days later a truant stood outside the school gate and made himself known to the staff by attempting to get a tune out of a stolen trumpet - The Last Post?

As Demolition Day approached it was decided to blow the school funds on a day trip to Butlins. If the excursion had only been open to those with a regular attendance record, a mini-bus would have been hired. However, everyone connected to the school got on board and six double-deckers hit the seaside Pleasure Dome. A great day was had by all, especially the adults who had to be press ganged out of the Pig and Whistle.

A few lucky souls opted for early retirement with generous enhancement. An unfortunate language teacher, aged 56, was refused retirement on the grounds of teacher shortage. He resigned on the spot. How would you react to seeing a 50 year old colleague heading off to the sun with a cheque for pound;40,000 in his wallet while you are expected to brace yourself for another four years exposing flash cards to les miserables? Mon dieu!

Six years on, the one secondary school on the estate has a healthy 900 pupils. Academic achievement, however, has not significantly improved despite having staff second to none. Failure has simply become more cost efficient.

The department says a slimmer, more efficient system will raise standards. I don't buy this closing down sell. The Drumchapel experience shows that academic achievement is linked to socio-economic conditions, not school size. School closures are based on financial considerations, not on educational arguments. Those in authority should have the guts to admit it.

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