United front in battle to save schools

PARENTS and pupils campaigning against school closures were today preparing to create a united front to fight the council.

Just 24 hours after plans to close 22 schools were officially announced, protesters went out in Princes Street collecting signatures for a petition, handing out leaflets and rallying support through a megaphone.

The mood across Edinburgh has swiftly changed from tearful devastation to angry defiance.

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Education leaders may have expected school versus school battles, imagining parents would hope closing their neighbour's would save their own. Instead, communities have joined forces, united by the fear of having the heart ripped out of their areas.

Colin Fox MSP, leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, who was leading protests in Princes Street today, said: "I've been contacted by people from across the city, from Bonnington to Drummond, and out in Wester Hailes and they are all saying 'we're not having this, it's terrible, it's a farce'.

"The council says it is for educational reasons, but they have a 10 million budget deficit. Well if they see 10m being saved off the backs of the likes of children in Burdiehouse they can think again.

"The council is in for a battle. There is a really defiant mood developing. The schools are uniting, joining forces. The council will try to divide and conquer but the campaigners across the city are wise enough to know they have nothing to gain by supporting the closure of another school.

"If they stand together they have got a far better chance of winning - that's the overwhelming mood of the people. There's a unity because they know whether you live in Leith, Burdiehouse, or Bingham, the primary school is the heart of the community."

Drummond Community High School pupils were among those planning to protest in Princes Street today. Some wrote passionate defences of the high school on the Evening News website yesterday after it emerged the school was proposed for closure.

Mr Fox said: "Some of the Drummond pupils rang me up yesterday afternoon in tears. The first they heard about it was during registration in the morning."

In Stockbridge, there was a sense of disbelief that a successful and well-liked school would be marked down for closure, with children to be split between Broughton and Flora Stevenson primary schools. As the parents and children walked out the gates they shook their heads and admitted to being worried about the upheaval they now face.

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Parents tried to explain to their children why a school with a waiting list was being closed. Some obviously found it hard to understand. The youngsters said they were worried about being separated from their friends and wanted to know if their teachers would still have jobs. The council has promised they will be redeployed within the city.

Sebastian Mitchell, eight, from Inverleith, said: "I don't like the sound of it - I suppose it depends on which school I get sent to. I've got good friends at Stockbridge and I guess I would get to stay with some of them but some would go to another school."

Like Dalmeny Primary, Stockbridge is not seen to have enough children in its catchment area to stay open. However, it more than compensates for this by drawing applications from further afield.

Several parents pointed out that this is misleading as one of the catchment's boundaries is the Deanhaugh Street - part of the main road that runs through the area - and many families who live close to the school are considered out of the catchment area.

Shafquat Ahmad, an interpreter from Comely Bank, whose son Aaqib, eight, is a pupil at the school, said: "It's absolutely awful.

"I fought to get my son into this school because it is fantastic. Some parents are angry, but they are more gutted than anything else. But nothing is final and all us parents will be fighting."

Across the city in Bingham, the language and emotions are the same. In the run-up to the elections a hustings was held at Lismore Primary School - which was saved from closure in 2004 - and parents vowed to chain themselves to the railings outside if necessary.

Yesterday, when the council report went online, it was immediately printed off by a parent and taken down to the school for others to see.

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Elizabeth Barron, whose daughter Ellie has just left the school, said: "I spoke to one parent this morning who had just been granted a full-time place at the nursery for her child. She was so upset, she said, 'how can they do this?' We're not just losing the school but the community centre as well. This will just destroy the community."

The Lismore Parent Action Group, which successfully fought against closure in 2004, is ready to fight once more, although this time their former allies in the Liberal Democrats will be their enemies.

But it is not just the schools facing the axe that are worried. The council's cuts, which will see schools close, children move and catchment areas redrawn, has alarmed even parents not directly affected.

William Wilson, a parent at Portobello High School, the city's largest secondary, promised to remove his child if the school was faced with taking on more pupils.

He said: "If this happens I will be pulling my kid out of there. I can just imagine the reaction down here. There's no way the school can take any more.

Councillor Ewan Aitken, who has helped to organise the meeting, said: "It shows how angry people are about this proposal - this is one of the fastest turnarounds in terms of organising a public meeting that I have been involved in."

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