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Inside Track: Why the time is ripe for co-operative schools

Scottish politicians should steal an idea from Borgen.

In a recent episode of the Danish political drama, former Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg asked her advisers for an election-winning policy. "Not closing small schools" came the reply. "It'll pay for itself. The costs of keeping small schools open are nothing compared to the revenue they generate locally."

The scriptwriters are absolutely right. Successful local schools make a huge contribution to our communities. For the past year, much of my spare time has been taken up by the campaign to save St Joseph's primary in Milngavie. East Dunbartonshire Council is considering the results of a formal consultation on plans to close what is the only Catholic school in the area and send the children to a new-build in Bearsden.

Unsurprisingly, parents are outraged. St Joseph's central location, just a few hundred yards from the town centre, means that many of the children walk to school. Local shopkeepers say the school run is the busiest time of their day. Schools are also vital community assets. St Joseph's is the site of Milngavie's only volunteer nursery and it is well used by other local groups including the Tuesday Club, which provides support to adults with learning difficulties.

They fear for their own future if the school is closed. Parents have responded in the best possible way. They are not just angry, they are organised. One mother remarked in the playground that she had been on more demonstrations in the past few months than in a lifetime of living in Belfast.

This campaign has national implications because of the way it has highlighted a democratic deficit in Scottish education. East Dunbartonshire Council has time to bring forward new proposals. Parents have suggested alternatives including a shared campus with a non-denominational school.

However, the fact that closure is still on the table shows that even small local authorities can be remote, unresponsive and out of touch.

It is time to open up a discussion about who runs schools and how parents and communities can have a bigger say.

In his recent report for think tanks Reform Scotland and the Centre for Scottish Public Policy, educationalist Keir Bloomer concluded that the top-down centralised structure of Scottish education is preventing progress.

One of the most inspiring aspects of the campaign to save the school has been the way it has drawn on the talents of the whole community. Why should this only happen when we are threatened with closure?

Communities clearly have a big stake in education and relevant expertise to offer.

In England, there are more than 450 co-operative schools, which give parents, pupils, teachers and local people the opportunity to become members of a community-based trust where everyone works together for mutual benefit.

The great visionary Robert Owen pioneered co-operative education at New Lanark. It is a school trip worth taking again.

Andrew McFadyen is a parent from the closure-threatened St Joseph's Primary in Milngavie, East Dunbartonshire

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