Noise erupts over Hyslop's school silence

EDUCATION Secretary and Lothians MSP Fiona Hyslop came under attack today for her silence on Edinburgh's school closure plans.

Ms Hyslop has refused to comment on the controversial proposals to shut 22 schools drawn up by the city's Liberal Democrat-SNP administration.

Her officials said her ministerial responsibilities meant she could not take sides in the row.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But Lothians Labour MSP George Foulkes accused her of dodging the issue, and said she had intervened in a row over plans drawn up by Western Isles Council to close 11 of its schools.

The row comes as the city council's new education committee voted 12 to six to formally put the closure of four nurseries and four community centres out for public consultation.

The proposals were opposed by the Labour councillors, who had also voted against the plans last week, with the group's education spokesman Councillor Andrew Burns describing them as "a dog's breakfast".

Mr Foulkes said there was strong public opposition to the plans and claimed the SNP had used the fear of closures to help them get elected in May. He said: "Ms Hyslop purports to represent the people of Edinburgh and Lothian, and she has a responsibility to fight for the people who elected her.

"It was a pretty tight election and I think it would be fair to say Fiona Hyslop probably would not be a minister without the commitment she and others gave to support this kind of campaign.

"For them to renege on that now is totally cynical."

Earlier this week, councillors in the Western Isles voted to defer school closures after Ms Hyslop wrote to them rejecting that changes to the national curriculum were part of the reason.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive's education department insisted Ms Hyslop had not expressed a view on the Western Isles plans, but had merely told them they could not use the curriculum to justify the closures.

And she said Ms Hyslop could not take a view on the Edinburgh closure plans because it could fall to ministers to make a final decision on some of the proposals.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Decisions to close schools that have more than 80 per cent capacity have to be referred to ministers for final approval - and at least two of the schools earmarked to shut fall into that category. In some cases, ministers could also be involved where proposals mean the closure of Catholic schools.

The spokeswoman said: "It is a matter for the council to work through the issues they have got. The minister would not comment because at least two or more of the closure decisions might come to her for final sign-off. She cannot get involved in this."

And the spokeswoman dismissed any suggestion Ms Hyslop's role as a Lothians MSP might mean she could step back from formal involvement in any final rulings. "Ministers make the decision collectively," she said.

Edinburgh Pentlands Tory MSP David McLetchie said that even if Ms Hyslop felt unable to speak publicly about the plans she could still wield "significant influence" behind the scenes.

He said: "I hope she will tell her SNP colleagues on the council to call off the dogs and stop harassing some of the most popular schools in Edinburgh."

The first round of consultations approved yesterday will focus on Princess Elizabeth, Cameron House, Westfield Court and Grassmarket nurseries, and St Anns, Riddles Court, Bingham, and the Gorgie War Memorial Hall community centres.

Cllr Burns was successful in convincing the administration to put back discussing them until October 30, instead of September 24, to give all the affected schools and communities the chance to have their say in public meetings.

Cllr Burns said: "The public meetings for six of these establishments are not until after we have met to discuss them and make our recommendations. This is a dog's breakfast."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The committee heard deputations from Lismore Primary, Parents in Partnership, Westfield Court Nursery and St Cuthbert's RC Primary. Each was forbidden from talking about respective schools, but succeeded in making points without referring to names.

Gail Ross, secretary of the Lismore Parents Action Group, said: "It's wrong for the new administration to playing political cat and mouse with schools. This is not why we voted you in - to close schools and community centres."

Elizabeth Anderton, head of Westfield Court Parents Committee, said the timescale for consultation was too short. "It will lead to severe disruption of children's education in pre-school."

Monsignor Tony Duffy, chaplain of St Cuthbert's RC Primary School, said: "People in our community have not only been reduced to tears, they have been reduced to statistical pawns in the council's political game."

Meanwhile, dozens of parents and pupils protested at Abbeyhill Primary School yesterday, calling for the school to be saved, and to scrap plans to move the pupils to Leith Walk Primary. Parents there have vowed to fight plans to increase the school's population.

They claimed the plans are unrealistic, as the school already has to use the gym hall each lunch time as a makeshift dining room, as its main one is too small.