The Labour Party in Dundee has changed its mind on school closures, John Kemp, the city council's education convener, has acknowledged. Mr Kemp's administration is planning to close two secondaries and four primaries to save Pounds 2 million in a full year.
The admission came as the education committee met last week to approve a harsh package of cuts. Mr Kemp rebutted charges from Tory councillors that Dundee was being forced to pay for years of inactivity over more than 12,000 surplus places in the city's primary and secondary schools.
The policy of no closures had been "right for the circumstances of the 1980s" but financial circumstances, population movements and other factors had forced a change of heart. Any councillor who did not tailor policies to reality was "a fool", Mr Kemp concluded.
He did not recall any party urging school closures during that period. "If I am guilty, you are guilty as well," Mr Kemp told the Tory benches. He did, however, recall Bruce Mackie, leader of the Tory group on Tayside Region, inveighing against closures when the axe was poised over the four-year Alyth High near Blairgowrie.
The choice now was between closures and the jobs of 100 teachers, Mr Kemp told the committee as he fought off SNP-led attempts to remove the issue from the current budgetary round. The administration came in for strong criticism, echoed by teacher and church representatives, over the Pounds 900,000 earmarked for savings from closures in 1996-97.
"How can you have a consultation process with parents on school closures when you have removed the money to keep them open?" William Sawers, SNP, asked. "The consultation is a complete sham."
Mgr Joseph Creegan, the Roman Catholic representative, declared: "Is the administration going to make a stand or is it simply going to continue making cuts imposed by the present Government?" Eric Baillie, the teachers' representative, won an assurance from Mr Kemp that if the savings that were needed did not come from closures the administration would seek alternatives in areas other than educational expenditure.
However, already many other departments have fared significantly worse than education. Total spending is to be reduced by Pounds 14.8 million, or 7. 4 per cent, of which education's share is Pounds 2.1 million, or 3.2 per cent of the education budget. Social work has taken a 7 per cent hammering.
There will none the less be serious repercussions for schools as funding for the technical and vocational education initiative (TVEI) ceases, supply cover is reduced, upgrading of computers is deferred and school compacts with employers are scrapped. Foreign language assistants will no longer be employed from September, the team of visiting specialists in primary schools will be reduced and advisory services will be cut.
Teacher appraisal has been delayed for a year and devolved management in primary schools will not be introduced until April next year.
Almost Pounds 1 million was removed from expenditure on repairs and maintenance before the base budget was constructed. The actual proportion saved from education spending is therefore 4.7 per cent.
Mr Kemp admitted: "The quality of education will not be as good as it would have been."
During the debate it was claimed that the necessity for rationalising schools was gradually winning acceptance. The school boards at Rockwell High and Kirkton High have said the two schools should merge and the major issue is where to site the combined school. The council proposes the Kirkton building but Rockwell's board disagrees.