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Battle begins over education's future

IT wasn't just people promoting Fringe shows who were handing out leaflets in Edinburgh's High Street yesterday. Clustered among them, protesting outside the city chambers, were irate parents handing out flyers against school closures.

IT wasn't just people promoting Fringe shows who were handing out leaflets in Edinburgh's High Street yesterday. Clustered among them, protesting outside the city chambers, were irate parents handing out flyers against school closures.

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It may be festival time in the capital but plans by Edinburgh council chiefs to axe 22 education establishments - six nurseries, 13 primaries and three secondary schools as well as four community centres - has left parents less inclined than ever to join in the festivities.

A large group of nursery school parents gathered outside Edinburgh City Chambers to voice their anger and concern for the future of their children's education.

Natasha Kirby, whose daughter Giselle, four, attends Grassmarket Primary School, said : "The closure programme is a disgrace and has taken everybody by surprise. For instance, the council have told us they want to close Grassmarket Primary, which is a school that is 101 years old, with links to schools in France, Spain and Italy and is a real centre of excellence.

"We have no idea where the children will go if they go ahead with closure and this is no way to treat children."

Today it is the turn of campaigners against the closure of three secondary schools and 13 primaries to take their message to the doorstep of the councillors who will make the decision on their children's future.

There will also be a series of meetings at each of the threatened schools over the next few weeks with pupils joining staff to voice their disgust and anger at the planned closures, some of which could happen as early as next summer.

The speed at which the campaign groups have been set up and opposition websites created gives the clearest indication of the level of anger.

Edinburgh Council chiefs claim the schools earmarked for closure are, in some cases, only half-full and all the money saved will be reinvested into education in the capital. Those against accuse the councillors of having no sense of social responsibility and believe the closures will rip the heart out of communities. They also point to a £10m blackhole in the council budget which they claim the local authority is trying to fill with a quick-sale of school property to housing developers.

Parents also find it strangely ironic that, at a time when they are told class sizes are being reduced because it is better for children to get more one-on-one teacher time, schools are being closed because rolls are too low.

The number of new school starters in Edinburgh has fallen by a quarter - or nearly 2500 children - over the past 10 years with the number of high school students also falling sharply.

One of the reasons Edinburgh has a falling school roll is largely because of the high cost of properties, which means fewer people can afford to raise families in the capital. That said, the school rolls are only expected to fall until about 2015 and after that they should stabilise.

It is believed the school closure programme will save the council £9m over three years in reduced running costs and the land occupied by the 13 primary schools could to be worth around £16m based on current prices. Council chiefs have promised the money will be reinvested and will lead to extending schools that will have to take on more children.

Edinburgh council chiefs claim their education review aims to maximise the number of children and adults attending schools and community education centres and to give them a "first-rate educational experience".

Councillor Marilyne MacLaren, convener for Education and Children Families, said: "Our aim is for all young people in Edinburgh to receive a first-class education in high-quality buildings that are fit for purpose and meet the needs of learners in the 21st century.

"We want to increase the number of pupils attending new or refurbished schools and generate extra funding by reducing the number of surplus places and reinvest money saved in buildings and services for children and families.

"Education funding is based on the number of pupils in a school and it is important that the funds we receive from the Scottish Executive are used wisely. Our priority is to improve the whole educational experience rather than spending money on running and maintaining half-empty buildings.

"The educational benefits of this review are its most significant aspect. One of our aims is to increase the number of young people attending schools at the optimum size, for example two classes at every stage in primary school. This will allow us to deliver the full range of curricular and extra-curricular activities to more children in the city."

Candidates earmarked to go

Early Years Establishments Cameron House Nursery School Grassmarket Nursery School High School Yards Nursery School Princess Elizabeth Nursery School Victoria Park Child and Family Centre Westfield Court Nursery School

Primary Schools Abbeyhill Primary School Bonnington Primary School Burdiehouse Primary School Craigentinny Primary School Dalmeny Primary School Drumbrae Primary School Hillwood Primary School Lismore Primary School St Cuthbert's Primary School St Catherine's Primary School Stockbridge Primary School Victoria Primary School Westburn Primary School

Secondary Schools Castlebrae Community High School Drummond Community High School Wester Hailes Education Centre

Community Centres Bingham Community Centre Gorgie War Memorial Hall Community Centre Riddles Court Community Centre St Ann's Community CentreEarly www.parentsinpartnership.org.uk

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