Glasgow's secondary schools need #163;53 million in capital investment alone if they are to be fit for the next century. A report this week says the alternative is a continued haemorrhage of pupils turned off by the poor image of the city's schools.
The council's ambitious plans to "modernise the comprehensive education principle", revealed in The TES Scotland on September 5, were approved by the policy and resources committee on Tuesday after months of highly confidential discussions by a task group of leading councillors. As forecast the proposals involve a reduction from 38 secondaries to 30 "strategically placed schools".
The council intends to move rapidly, publishing a statement of general principles this month to be followed quickly by consultation documents on individual schools so far unnamed. Closures would be phased in from 1998-2000. The authority, whose attempts to close schools last year ended in embarrassing collapse, hopes to succeed this time in heading off a vociferous "save our schools" campaign by promising a well-funded package of education reform.
It has drawn up a strategy based on five principles: modernising comprehensive education, raising standards and maximising potential, promoting equal opportunities, encouraging best value and continuous improvement in quality, and developing new technology.
This week's report by Ken Corsar, the director of education, says the task group has consulted parents and teachers who said they "would subscribe to any strategy which was underpinned by these five considerations, even if this involved the closure of schools, as long as there was subsequent investment in the service. School rationalisation would be acceptable but only if the savings were reinvested in education and not used simply to resolve a budget crisis."
In a frank assessment of the city's education crisis, Mr Corsar stated: "Too many schools have small rolls, surplus accommodat ion, high unit costs and comparatively poor records of achievement. A major change is required to ensure that education investment is well directed and targeted and produces a service that is motivating, relevant, well resourced in terms of the teaching and learning process, housed in good accommodation and likely to lead each year to continuous improvement in meeting local and national targets."
The report says parents are voting with their feet. They are shunning schools in disadvantaged areas and an estimated 600 pupils leave the city's primaries every year for secondaries outside Glasgow. "The perceived image of many Glasgow schools will have to be altered to arrest this loss of pupils," the director's report states.
Glasgow admits for the first time that it cannot claim to be operating a comprehensive system in secondary schools as parental choice opens up an "increasingly divisive" gulf between the two sides of the social track. The record of achievement in some of the smaller schools is no better than the much derided junior secondaries of the pre-comprehensive age, the report concedes, and neighbourhood comprehensives are "struggling".
Officials accept that approaches to closures in the past have exacerbated these tensions because parents can bypass the new school to which they have been officially assigned. In one case last year, pupils from a primary transferred to nine schools in addition to the designated alternative which was not popular with many parents.
Glasgow's problems are also heightened by having to run two parallel systems of non-denominational and Roman Catholic education which "is extremely costly". In future denominational secondaries are to be treated as "strategically placed" but specialist provision, and the proposed guarantee that no pupil should have to live more than three miles from secondary school, will not be applied to the Catholic sector.
The 38 secondaries in the city have 48,657 places but only 29,235 pupils. If eight are closed, surplus capacity would fall from 40 per cent to 25 per cent, with school sizes ranging from 800 pupils to 2,000. Some extra space would have to be retained for new developments and emergencies.
Mr Corsar says the options facing the council are stark. "Not to rationalise school provision is untenable if the council is to raise educational standards and maximise potential. The introduction of a best value regime for all local government services renders the status quo totally unacceptable.
"School amalgamations based on previous patterns are not guaranteed to produce the desired increase in pupil motivation and achievement. A more radical approach is required."