Glasgow bites the bullet

17th October 1997 at 01:00
It is as well to be realistic. Previous attempts to close schools in Glasgow have been promoted educationally rather than financially. They failed because of parental pressure, councillors' sensitivities and the misapplication of the opting-out legislation. What reason is there to assume that the package launched this week is likely to be more successful?

First, the break-up of Strathclyde has exposed Glasgow's dire position: bottom of most performance tables, schools located in the wrong places, a council running out of money. These features are not new but they loom ever larger. With higher-achieving pupils flocking to independent schools or those in surrounding council areas, the city's reputation can only get worse despite the efforts of dedicated teachers. Council leaders have recognised that some schools are little different from junior secondaries before the comprehensive era. They make a mockery of the city's social strategy.

In alerting people to urgent action, outspoken self-criticism is more effective than excuses, such as blaming central government. The second reason for believing that this time action may follow rhetoric is that all vestiges of complacency have been shaken. The ructions in the City Chambers may help create a new climate if a fresh leadership drives through schools reform as part of a modernisation package. The jury will be out on that for some time, but the public surely knows now that the old ways were bad ways.

So much for politics and public perception. The educational case for change ought to be attractive to parents. Schools will be asked to develop special strengths, partly to raise the standing of the smaller ones in difficult areas and partly in recognition of the fact that no school can take on everything in Higher Still and other parts of the extended curriculum. A city has the greatest opportunity to promote centres of excellence, especially in minority activities. Glasgow cites Dance School at Knightswood. The reputation of the former Allan Glen's in mathematics and the sciences is an example from the old Glasgow council.

Restructuring involves new buildings as well as money to back a closures programme. Ministers recognise the need to invest, paradoxical though it may seem when excess accommodation is the reason for central government's impatience with council lethargy. Glasgow deserves the lion's share of the money on offer. But only determination to adhere to a tight timetable will release the cash. That in turn means that councillors facing re-election in 1999 will have to stand firm in the face of popular pressure whipped up by opposition parties.

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