Political brickbats for PPP

25th April 2003 at 01:00
TODAY (Friday) is the closing date for objectors and others to have their final say over far-reaching plans to modernise South Lanarkshire's 21 secondary schools.

The pound;182 million proposals, to be funded through the authority's share of the Scottish Executive's public private partnership (PPP) cash, have caused an unprecedented furore, with the political fortunes of some local and national figures at stake.

Tommy Gilligan, former boxer, professional footballer and retired teacher, who was once president of the Educational Institute of Scotland in Lanarkshire, is standing in next Thursday's council elections in the Earnock ward in Hamilton - where the battle has been among the fiercest with a vocal campaign to save Earnock High from closure.

Graham Horne, one of the school's parents, is contesting the seat held by Jean McKeown, chair of the education committee. And Bill Wishart, a Church of Scotland deacon, has entered the lists against Jim Daisley, the council's deputy leader.

Even Andy Kerr, Finance Minister and close political associate of Jack McConnell, the First Minister, will be confronted by stiff opposition in his East Kilbride con-stituency election.

The new town is facing the most fundamental overhaul. Six secondaries would merge into three "high-tech campus schools". St Andrew's High and St Bride's High would come together on the site of the former; Duncanrig High and Ballerup High would combine in a completely new school; and Claremont High would provide a site for itself and Hunter High.

Earnock High pupils in Hamilton would be dispersed to renovated schools at Blantyre High and Hamilton Grammar. Five associated primaries would be rezoned.

The move has incensed parents and teachers who point out that before the recent inspectorate report on Beeslack High in Penicuik, Earnock had the best verdict of any school among 143 on the HMI website analysed by the campaigners - 16 very good ratings and four good, but with the accommodation at the centre of the current row considered as only fair.

The Rev David Burt, chairperson of Earnock High school board, accuses local officials of failing to celebrate the school's achievements in the way Midlothian Council highlighted those of Beeslack.

Three other secondaries would be completely rebuilt, three would undergo major modernisation and nine would be refurbished or repaired. New special school facilities would also be included in a vast programme that would take until 2009 to complete, almost rivalling Glasgow's secondary PPP project in its scale.

As the usual arguments rage over the educational, community and financial consequences, the council is officially playing a straight bat, insisting:

"We have an open mind on the proposals."

In what might be interpreted as a nod and a wink, however, a spokesperson stated: "We are not aware of any similar schools modernisation programme of this size and complexity that, as an outcome of a consultation exercise, has not been changed."

Maggi Allan, South Lanarkshire's director of education, says the plans are in line with the national drive to make all Scotland's schools new community schools in the next five years.

A pilot has been running at Cathkin High where there were fears that the school would become a dumping ground for disruptive pupils and would be forced to throw open its doors to anybody in the community.

"We had to work very hard on that," Mrs Allan commented. The emphasis on the needs of pupils and their families, together with the combining of different professionals in the school, meant that the approach was essentially one of "problem-solving".

From today, the authority is going to need that particular skill in abundance.

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