Closures and mergers

Written by Tom Freeman on 14 October 2014

There were tears from parents as Dunfermline’s Pitcorthie Primary became the latest school to be axed, after the Scottish Government approved a decision to close it. Constituency MSP Cara Hilton called the decision “cynical politics which ignores the effect their actions would have had on the pupils, parents and staff who will be devastated by this news.”
Well she might. Hilton has campaigned to keep the school open and used the issue as a centre point of her victorious Holyrood by-election campaign. But she also sits on Fife Council’s Labour group, which earmarked the school for closure in the first place. Indeed, she voted to approve the budget which included the closure because the council is facing £92m of cuts over the next four years.
Fife isn’t the only location of parent misery. Council budgets are increasingly squeezed and restricted by Westminster cuts, the council-tax freeze and the legacy of PFI schools contracts, which ringfence huge parts of the education budget to pay off private consortia. Councils simply can’t afford schools.
In Glasgow, Hillhead Primary faces a hard choice between solutions to their critical overcrowding problem which has seen the loss of art, music and ICT rooms. The council has suggested decanting P7s to the local high school, which parents have objected to because it would affect a critical point of their children’s education. Others have said closing Glasgow’s only council-funded Early Learning Centre in the west end of the city is the only solution. Alternatively, losing the school’s outdoor space by filling it with Portakabins is another option. The consultation has become bitter, as parts of the community fight over which element of their children’s education shouldn’t have to suffer. What feels like a ‘divide and conquer’ public consultation is, sadly, all too common an occurrence.    
While councils can often point to ‘crumbling schools’ as a motivation for closures, in Hillhead there is no such excuse. The school was only built in 2011, as a ‘flagship’ project which merged three primaries. Another cost-cutting exercise, then. 
At a time when international experts like Professor Alma Harris are praising Scotland’s commitment to embed deeper learning, equity and excellence in its education system, it seems the buildings and infrastructure to house it are being left to the local politics blame game. Cynical politics, indeed.  

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