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Parent revolt blocks new superschool Third of councils have plans for mergers

PARENT power yesterday blocked plans for a super-school campus with 1500 pupils, as a poll by The Herald revealed more than a third of local authorities proposing to merge schools in public private partnership schemes.

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The victory for parents in Renfrewshire came as councillors in another local authority prepare to vote tonight on a £ 100m PPP scheme which would include a 1200-pupil joint campus. The Herald poll found that as many as 16 schools in one area, North Lanarkshire, could close through the mergers, though replacements would leave a net reduction of about seven. The Scottish Executive, which has awarded £ 2.2bn to 28 councils with PPP strings attached, insists closures are driven by falling school rolls. Critics blame them on the need to fall in line with PPP balance sheets. In Renfrewshire, councillors rejected a proposal to merge Linwood High and Gryffe High in Houston to create a 1500-pupil secondary after receiving more than 2600 responses from parents, the vast majority opposing the plan. Instead, they voted to accept the other option offered under the PPP scheme. It means Linwood High, which has a school roll of 516, will be rebuilt on its existing site and Gryffe High will be refurbished. Gryffe's playing fields will be designated for educational use, not housing development. An executive spokesman said: ''It is not cost-effective for many local authorities to keep all of their schools open, and individual authorities are best placed to assess this. ''Our target is to rebuild or refurbish 300 schools throughout Scotland by 2009. Many are already coming on stream and communities are reaping the benefit.'' However, the SNP accused the executive of putting profit before pupils to the detriment of their education. In East Dunbartonshire to-night, councillors will vote on proposals to build six new secondary schools, including a Bishopbriggs High/Thomas Muir High School merger with a combined roll of 1200, under a public-private scheme. The five other schools to be rebuilt would be Bearsden Academy; Douglas Academy, in Milngavie; Kirkintilloch High and St Ninian's High, in Kirkintilloch; and Turnbull High in Bishopbriggs. As part of its plans, the council has already embarked upon an exercise to cap the roll of its secondary schools, effectively removing some 1700 places over the next four years from pupils living in neighbouring authorities. The proposals indicate that attempts by the Catholic Church to persuade East Dunbartonshire Council to create a denominational secondary school serving the Bearsden/Milngavie area have failed. The Catholic Education Service had been lobbying for a joint campus provision, where Catholic and non-denominational pupils would share classes and initially be taught separately for subjects such as religious education, biology and social education. In a report to councillors, Sandy McGarvey, the council's head of operational support, warns that the proposed model would still leave a funding gap of £ 841,000 a year compared to the council's £ 100m bid agreed with the Scottish Executive. In Renfrewshire, a spokes-woman for one of the campaign groups which opposed the merger, said: ''Gryffe Action Group is very pleased with the result of the Renfrewshire Council meeting today at which proposal one was agreed with the inclusion of no sale of land at Gryffe High School as it is to be retained for educational purposes. ''There was also confirmation that there would be no ballot for places at Gryffe High School from the new catchment area which includes the From Page 1

areas of Crosslee Park, Cross-lee Crescent, Brierie Hills and Craigends. This is an outcome that had been hoped for and the effort and experiences of the last two months now seem worthwhile.'' Roy Glen, convener of the council's lifelong learning and work policy board, said: ''I particularly want to highlight that this clear outcome is the result of an intense, wide-ranging and thorough consultation. The administration has left no stone unturned in its quest to hear the views of local people.'' The executive insists the drive for school closures comes from the decline in the population and school rolls, projected at 15% over 10 years. The number of schoolchildren is expected to drop from the 2002 level of 796,000 to 674,000 by the year 2013. However, Brian Adams, shadow deputy education minister, said: ''The determining factor in designing each school estate should be the needs of our children, not the needs of private companies to balance the books. This has been seen in the mass sell-off of playing fields and the closure of viable schools. ''We need a new strategy and a new approach that does not mortgage our children's future, and restores Scottish education to the internationally-renowned standing it once held. ''Of course there are places where there is a valid case where the school is no longer viable, but that is being used in some places as an excuse and it is difficult to sort out the weave. It should be an opportunity to achieve smaller class sizes.'' Last week, the Educational Institute of Scotland's conference agreed teachers should campaign against closure or merger for non-educational reasons. Ronnie Smith, the union's general secretary, said: ''Where they are driven by improving educational provision, that is OK. Where there is some other motive we would be opposed.'' He added: ''I don't know of any evidence that you will get a better educational outcome by creating a 2500-pupils campus. Most research suggests that a more moderate size of school will be more effective. The sheer physical management of a super-campus is difficult. ''You need teachers, not just space. We should be using falling rolls as an opportunity to have smaller class sizes.'' Teachers polled by the EIS about the effect of PPP developments have complained about failure to involve them in the design. The results in some cases were cramped conditions, tight corridors, and multi-function rooms where the needs of dining, gym, exams and public events all competed for the space.

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