Death knell for last of the '5-14s'

4th July 1997 at 01:00
SNP pushes through school closure after provost says that warning to 'use it or lose it' was ignored

The secondary department of the last "5-14 school" on the Scottish mainland will close next June, 16 years after its future was first put in doubt. The last chance of a reprieve lies with the Secretary of State.

The decision means SNP-run Angus keeps its unusual 100 per cent record of seeing through closure proposals - two primaries have already gone - by confirming that Newtyle Secondary with 42 first and second-year pupils will disapear next year.

The ruling group stayed the course despite political delicacies. The school is in the Tayside North constituency captured from the Tories by the SNP at the general election. Sheena Welsh, wife of the SNP MP for Angus East whose constituents account for part of the Newtyle roll, is a member of the education committee.

Frances Duncan, the provost and local councillor, recalled in an emotional speech her warning to parents 12 years ago that the school faced a stark choice of "use it or lose it".

The education committee concluded that parents had effectively "lost it" and that the closure decision, on a 12-5 vote, was inevitable. Only 25 primary 6 pupils out of a total of 51 and 23 primary 5 children out of 46 would opt for Newtyle as their first preference if the school remained open, according to a parental survey carried out by the education department. The school board suggested continuing uncertainty was partly to blame.

Councillors did, however, accept a recommendation from Jim Anderson, the director of education, that closure be delayed for a year to allow parents time to select alternative secondary education.

This was not seen as much of a concession to the Newtyle school board, which has fought a much-admired campaign against the council's plans. Bill Reekie, the board's chairman, said postponement simply recognised the reality that the school could not be axed before the start of the new session in August. The closure requires Scottish Office approval because Newtyle is more than 10 miles from the nearest secondary.

The choice of alternative secondary education for the Newtyle pupils is now an issue in itself, having become complicated by the new council boundaries and the popularity of other schools. The roll of Harris Academy in Labour-run Dundee, the parents' first preference, is effectively capped making it extremely unlikely that Newtyle parents will be able to make successful placing requests.

Menzieshill High in Dundee is also filling up and Webster's High in Kirriemuir is close to capacity. Forfar Academy and Monifieth High would be able to accommodate Newtyle pupils, but the school board rejects Forfar because the route goes through an accident blackspot while Monifieth is a 30-mile round trip from south-west Angus.

Mr Reekie suggested that the Harris Academy factor in particular could boost numbers at Newtyle, thus redressing the educational unviability of the school which Mr Anderson said was a key consideration. But Brian Milne, the council's education convener, said there were no guarantees of this since parents were more likely to continue opting for six-year secondary education.

Although Mr Anderson stressed repeatedly the educational arguments against the continuation of Newtyle - there will be just five girls and 14 boys in the second year next session - Mr Milne was equally adamant that financial arguments held sway.

Raising Newtyle to a four-year school would cost Pounds 700,000 in capital expenditure and a Pounds 380,000 increase in annual running costs for a secondary roll whose maximum roll would not breach 190. A Liberal Democrat move, supported by the Educational Institute of Scotland representatives, to consider a three-year stay of execution and a four-year solution was roundly condemned by SNP councillors for giving parents false hope.

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