AN increasingly acrimonious war of words has broken out among parents at two of Glasgow's leading fee-paying schools over proposals which could lead to a merger. The issue has also reignited the single sex versus coeducation debate, and highlighted the effects of increased fees inevitable in the aftermath of the McCrone agreement as wages soar.
The announcement that Hutcheson's Grammar School, with 1,927 boys and girls in the south of the city, and Laurel Park, with 428 girls in the west end, are holding talks on "sharing resources" has led one "Hutchie" parent to claim that the smaller school would "pull down" Hutcheson's academic standards. This provoked the reply that Hutchie is a "qualifications factory" and a fierce defence of single-sex education.
Laurel Park parents this week demanded an immediate meeting with the school's board of governors and for the merger discussions to be put on hold. Hutcheson's parents have also contacted their board of governors with a request to hold talks. The proposals are believed to involve the Laurel Park building being used as a coeducational primary school while older pupils would all attend Hutcheson's.
Brian Boyd, of the faculty of education a Strathclyde University and a strong supporter of coeducational schooling said both sides had been "ham-fisted" and neither had taken into account the views of the "stakeholders". Dr Boyd added: "Some people believe very strongly in single-sex schooling, but market pressures are increasingly pushing all sections of education into a greater degree of conformity. The better teacher-pupil ratio in the private sector will undoubtedly increase these pressures bearing in mind the agreement on the McCrone recommendations."
Judith Sischy, director of of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said that as far as she knew the discussions between Hutcheson's and Laurel Park were driven by "a complexity of issues" independent of McCrone, but acknowledged that the package on offer to teachers would have significant implications for independent schools.
Schools are holding the third of a series of meetings next month to discuss the impact.
"No one begrudges the increases, but there is a balance to be struck between the need to pay the increase and to enable parents to cope. It helps that we have been given ample warning and that the increases in fees can be staged," Mrs Sischy said.