He huffs and puffs but he can't blow it down

11th May 2001 at 01:00
Attacks by the EIS on Glasgow's massive schools regeneration project ignore the clear achievements on the ground, says Bob Gray

The diatribe by Willie Hart of the Educational Institute of Scotland against Glasgow's public private partnership (Avisandum, April 27) was merely the latest in a series of attempts to stir up opposition to the project. For some time Mr Hart has been forced into expending a significant amount of energy in this respect. Most informed people don't feel such criticism is justified.

For some years prior to Project 2002 being agreed, Mr Hart and his union had quite rightly been pressing for improvements to the city's schools. Pupils, teachers and parents backed their argument. The council was in full support. The question was how to do that in an acceptable time-scale and manageable budget.

Glasgow will now sport the most modern and best equipped secondaries in the country within three years - at a price we can afford.

Sadly, Mr Hart has chosen to continue pursuing his own political view of public private partnerships rather than focus on the long-term future of our schools and make any positive contribution to their development.

He claims that every secondary will lose classrooms. No. Schools such as St Andrew's, Holyrood, Hyndland and Cleveden will have more classrooms than before. Only those that were significantly under capacity will have fewer, to reflect the demographics of the areas they serve.

Swimming pool provision was something we examined closely. To retain all pools would cost the equivalent of pound;40 per pupil per swim - hardly value for money given the outstanding public facilities available. Project 2002 ensures all pupils can swim at top-class pools at no cost to their school.

There will always be a debate about the best layout for science labs. What we have done is separate areas used for experiments and areas used for written coursework. We believe this is the safest and most appropriate design, and the Health and Safety Executive approves. And far from schools offering "less subject choice", pupils in fact have more extensive options - particularly in technology-based subjects.

On average, two-thirds of secondary teachers' time available to a school is spent in the classroom. We recognise it is imperative they have quality space in which to do other work. To that end we are providing them with top-class faculy bases, which will become even better utilised as the McCrone recommendations kick in. All schools will also have conference facilities which they can use as staffrooms if they wish.

Mr Hart claims the performance of our contractors "does not inspire confidence". I beg to differ.

There are currently 22 major building projects up and running, all on target. At each site, there is a scheduled weekly meeting between key school staff and contractors to discuss and resolve any building or health and safety issues arising. Pressing problems are dealt with immediately. To date there have been just two.

Glasgow City Council has never pretended that Project 2002 would cause no disruption. What we promised was to keep it to a minimum, and we believe that is being achieved. As for moving furniture, that was always the contractors' responsibility. The longest delay was two days, not "several weeks". Even more spurious is the claim that contractors have "disavowed all responsibility" for repair or purchase of home economics equipment. There has never been the slightest dubiety that white furniture is - and will remain - a council responsibility.

Mr Hart is wrong to suggest that "non-functional" computers were set up for the Project 2002 launch. They functioned perfectly well, but were not wired to the city-wide Glasgow Educational Network on that particular day. Between July 27, when the IT contract was signed, and the end of August nearly 4,000 computers were installed and networked. Some achievement.

The council set up a trade union liaison group, which met monthly but which EIS representatives rarely graced. We also organised a full-day meeting to enable the bidders to present their plans to the unions, which eight unions attended. The EIS was not among them.

The education services department prepared a "data room" which contains all relevant information on Project 2002. Representatives from other trade unions have repeatedly used this resource. To date, not one EIS official has done so.

Most people - including educationists who have visited from across the UK and abroad - are intensely excited about what is going on in the city. How unfortunate that Mr Hart cannot bring himself to share in this, but instead insists on slavishly pursuing his own short-sighted ends.

Bob Gray is convener of the education services committee, Glasgow City Council.

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