U-turn on school closures

7th September 2007 at 01:00
PLANS TO shut more than two dozen schools have been scrapped by two Scottish local authorities, leaving one council in such a dire financial position that teachers' jobs are at risk.

Last month, Edinburgh City Council announced plans to close 13 primaries, three secondaries and six nurseries. Meanwhile, in the Western Isles, seven P1-S2 schools and four primaries had been earmarked for closure.

All closures in Edinburgh have now been abandoned, and the islands' primary schools have been given a stay of execution.

The about-face by Edinburgh's Liberal DemocratSNP coalition came after SNP councillors withdrew their support for the plans, leaving the Liberal Democrats no choice but to drop the proposals.

Steve Cardownie, the SNP group leader on the council and deputy leader of the authority, said too many schools had been targeted. "We want to go back to the drawing board and look at the situation afresh," he said.

The closures, however, were going to save the council millions money it had planned to use to help plug a pound;14 million black hole in its children and families budget.

Now the council is facing the question: where will that cash come from?

Marilyne MacLaren, convener for education and children and families, said: "Unless we get extra funding from the exec- utive, schools are going to be hit in their budgets and there may be redundancies teachers jobs are under threat."

It is thought unlikely that the issue of school closures will resurface in Edinburgh before 2008.

It was also back to the drawing board for the Western Isles Council. Primary school closures on the islands will be put off until a review of all primary schools is completed in March 2009.

However, plans to close seven schools which teach up to S2 have survived the only potential change being that the council hopes to shut the schools two years earlier, in 2011.

The schools have been earmarked for closure, according to the council, because they will be rendered obsolete when the new curriculum is introduced in 2009.

A report by Murdo MacLeod, the director of education, said: "The structure in seven of our schools, which cover P1-S2, is a good fit for the 5-14 curriculum but will not cater for delivery of the new curriculum, as schools must be able to offer an S1-3 curriculum."

The decision comes in spite of education secretary Fiona Hyslop objecting to the closures, arguing that A Curriculum for Excellence would not affect the schools.

But the decision is not just about ACfE, said Morag Munro, council education chairwoman. The proposals are also down to falling school rolls there are half the pupils in P1 that there are in P7, a lack of cash to build new schools and deteriorating buildings.

Edinburgh faces similar problems. Since 1997, primary school numbers have fallen by 18 per cent. And, as in the Western Isles, this decline has been accompanied by a decrease in Scottish Executive funding. In Edinburgh's case there has been an pound;8 million decrease in government grants over the past five years.

Councillor Munro said: "We are trying to release and redirect money. Everybody gets cold feet when it comes to school closures. There is no other subject less palatable. But we have a responsibility to the future education of our children."

Conservative education spokes-man Murdo Fraser, however, is on a quest to save small com- munity schools from closure. He plans to publish a Members' Bill that would redraw the criteria for referral of closure decisions from local authorities to Scottish ministers. It would also introduce a Rural Schools Fund to help schools facing closure due to financial pressures.

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