Tell us which schools are for the chop says MP

Published: 16 Dec 2011 08:558 comments

LABOUR MP Thomas Docherty has challenged Fife education chair Douglas Chapman to publish a list of schools that could be shut.

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He has called on the SNP councillor to be upfront about plans to close classrooms to help plug a £90 million hole in Fife Council's budget.

Councillor Chapman told the Press last week that "unpopular decisions" would have to be taken to save money.

And Mr Docherty, the Dunfermline and West Fife MP, said, "I have written to Douglas Chapman saying I welcome the fact there's going to be a debate about schools and education provision in general but that he needs to publish the list of schools he has in mind for closure.

"By saying some could close and not saying which schools he's thinking of or what the criteria is, it's going to cause a great deal of uncertainty and distress to parents, teachers and the communities."

Fife Council runs 19 high schools and 143 primary schools but those that are below capacity, costly to run or with very small rolls may be earmarked for closure.

Councillor Chapman admitted last week, "We are fast running out of alternatives because of the scale of the cuts."

The council has to save the money by 2015, education may have to save up to £27 million by that time, and Mr Docherty said, "I'm concerned this is being driven by money rather than what's best for the children.

"There are arguments for consolidating, of course there are, but it needs to be in the best interests of the children and the school.

"Fife Council should be looking to carry out this exercise in north-east Fife first, where spending per child is much higher.

"I also think they should look again at the catchment areas."

Bill Walker, the SNP MSP for Dunfermline and councillor in West Fife Villages, said, "My view is that it's very much the last resort to close a school.

"In a village or suburb, if a school goes it's like the post office, church or local shop going, it would really take the heart out of the community.

"I can understand the economics and from a teaching aspect it's not really an advantage for children to be at a tiny school as they wouldn't get a very wide view of the world.

"It may be necessary to close schools for both education and economic reasons and sometimes parents decide themselves that a school is too small and take their child elsewhere.

"I think it's still the last resort to close a school though. It's a very serious issue and needs to be looked at carefully."

Lib Dem councillor Tony Martin echoed Councillor Chapman's point that, whoever wins next year's council elections, they would face the same financial challenge.

He said, "It's incumbent on other parties to say what they would do, there are lots of things we have to look at but there are no school closure plans.

"We have to save £30 million a year for the next three years so the education budget has to be looked at and it's something they'll have to consider.

"It doesn't mean schools will close but we need an open discussion and to inform the public about the options so they can tell us if they're the right choices.

"It would be wrong to try and pretend we can continue to provide the same services in the same way, hopefully we can provide the same services in a different way that will save money."

Motion

Alex Rowley, Labour group leader on Fife Council, said he would put forward a motion at the full council meeting today (Thursday) calling for an education commission to be established.

Part of it reads, "there is still a large cohort of pupils leaving school with too few qualifications who lack the skills and ability to succeed in society and in the modern economy".

And it adds that a broad-based review would "examine current provision, establish the need for change and initiate a programme of positive development in schools and through other providers of education and training".

Mr Rowley said, "It's one of the most important motions I've ever put up to the council.

"Hopefully the SNP will agree and get it up and running so we can look at all the issues in education.

"To simply say we're going to have to shut schools is not the best way to proceed, it's not the starting point and we should review the whole of education.

"It's a much bigger question than school closures and that's why we're arguing very strongly that this wide-ranging review should include business, industry, further and higher education sectors, trade unions and, crucially, the parent forums."

Tory councillor Dave Dempsey said his party colleagues were due to discuss matters with the council's education director Ken Greer.

He added, "They did shut Dunearn Primary School in Kirkcaldy because there was a lot of spare capacity and a brand new school within walking distance and there didn't seem to be a huge revolt.

"You can get away with it in towns to a certain extent without too much aggravation if there is spare capacity but it's when you get into the country, and the West Fife Villages comes into that category, that it's a bit more difficult.

"Dual headships, where one teacher is head of two primaries, helps to take away the overheads and that's been a good move but we'll have to see what happens. The devil is in the detail."

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