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Grasping the nettle of school rationalisation

Schools are more than educational establishments.

For many people, they are places where lifelong friendships are formed and personalities forged. A good school is a community in itself and a sense of membership of that community persists years, even decades, after pupils leave it for pastures new.

When schools close, it cannot fail to produce an emotional reaction among present and former pupils, teachers and parents. News that North Lanarkshire Council is to shut 10 under-used and deteriorating schools is likely therefore to be met with dismay among some parents and pupils. Those who are upset about plans to close their local primary school are unlikely to appreciate the suggestion by one council source that people tend to be more "precious" about primary schools than about secondaries.

It is understandable to fear that, if a school closes, what replaces it might not be up to the same standard or provide as positive an ethos. It is right that parents express their views on this. Even so, schools cannot be kept open indefinitely when the pupil roll is falling and the condition of buildings is deteriorating.

North Lanarkshire Council is by no means alone in making difficult decisions. Just before Christmas, it emerged that two primaries and two nurseries in Glasgow were to close, coming four years after the city council moved to shut a raft of schools. At that time, the council cited low pupil numbers and dilapidated buildings, though cost-cutting was suspected.

North Lanarkshire itself is no stranger to controversy on this issue. In the past 18 months it has faced a campaign aginst the closure of Abronhill High in Cumbernauld, made famous by the movie Gregory's Girl. In December, campaigners gave up on plans to challenge the closure in the courts.

Parents also staged a sit-in protest at Gartsherrie Primary in Coatbridge more than three years ago after unsuccessfully mounting a legal challenge to prevent the school's closure.

Councils have to make unpopular decisions, at times to ensure public services are sustainable. Parents may well accept these latest closures on the basis that better facilities will be available to children in their new schools but, as always, it is important that all parties listen to one another in the interests of finding the best way forward for North Lanarkshire pupils.

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Education

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