Tycoon’s school for troubled teens thrown into doubt by council

PLANS by one of Scotland’s richest businessmen to open a technical college for disaffected teenagers have been thrown into doubt amid concerns over funding.

Jim McColl, the millionaire chairman and chief executive of Clyde Blowers, hopes to open the facility early next year, offering courses in engineering and construction alongside traditional subjects.

But Glasgow City Council has expressed concern about the amount of money it is being expected to contribute to the project, saying it can only afford £100,000 of the £500,000 it claims is needed to provide education for each of the first two years.

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McColl, who left school at 16 with three O Levels, said the project would only work if it was a partnership between the public and private sectors.

But the council said the cost per pupil would be around £13,500, compared with £5,500 for a normal secondary school pupil. It has estimated that the cost of providing education for those attending the college will be £500,000 for each of the first two years.

McColl said he was soon to have talks with the Scottish Government about the project, adding that funding would “not be an issue”.

He said: “My model is that the private sector will fund work on the building and then I was looking to have a model where the teaching would be paid for by a combination of a third from the private sector, a third from the Scottish Government and a third from the council. I don’t know what that number will be yet.

“At the moment, there are a number of kids that don’t go to a further education college or into employment – the so-called Neets (Not in Education, Employment or Training). Teachers tell us there are kids who switch off at the age of 14. My hope is to reach those who we think will learn better through a vocational education, rather than one that is purely academic.”

Under the plans, 30 S3 pupils would be selected from ten secondary schools in the south side of Glasgow to attend the college. It is expected that they would continue to study for Standard Grades, taking five subjects. There will also be a vocational strand, with students receiving classes in engineering and construction as well as life skills from the organisation SkillForce, an educational charity which began in 2000 as a Ministry of Defence pilot project.

“We don’t know what the costs are, but we will find the funding. What’s key is that it’s got to be a public/private partnership – it can’t just be a private initiative. They have the academy model in England, but that just won’t work in Scotland. It has to still be a part of the local authority education system and it’s very important to me that that’s the case,” said McColl.

Maureen McKenna, Glasgow’s head of education, has written to McColl saying the council is “not in a position to commit” to the funding required to get the venture started. She has proposed a scholarship model which would see pupils remain in their schools, with one day a week’s work experience, an idea McColl has described as a “non-starter”.

A council spokeswoman said: “In the current financial climate the council is unable to commit significant sums.”

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