The great schools shutdown

MORE than two-dozen schools, nurseries and community centres across Edinburgh have been earmarked for closure, The Scotsman can reveal.

Facing the Axe

See a complete list and map of the schools, nurseries and community centres earmarked for closure.PDF requires Acrobat readerSome critics last night accused the city council of "social engineering" by planning to axe some schools which were popular with parents while protecting others that had poorer reputations.

The proposals - which were obtained by The Scotsman in advance of their official release today - are intended to tackle falling school rolls as part of the local authority's 10 million cost-cutting programme.

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The hitlist of 22 schools features 13 primaries, three secondaries and six nurseries, plus four community centres.

Victoria Primary in Newhaven is among those at risk. However, nearby Fort Primary, which is in one of the city's most deprived areas and considered less popular with parents, will remain open.

Stockbridge Primary also faces the axe, despite being almost at capacity, because most of its pupils come from outside the immediate area.

One highly placed education source last night accused the council of "social engineering".

He added: "They want to close popular schools and move children into unpopular ones. If money is so tight and we have to look at changes, it should be the unpopular schools that close."

The source claimed the list of 16 closure-threatened primary and high schools failed to "take nearly enough account of what parents want".

Under the plans, Wester Hailes Education Centre, Castlebrae High and Drummond High would all shut.

Parents at the affected schools are due to be notified today. Final decisions will be made following a consultation period of about nine months.

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Ewan Aitken, the council's Labour group leader, last night criticised the proposals. He said: "This is not just about numbers or exam results - it's about people. You cannot do this by the numbers. It's much more important than that."

Mr Aitken suggested it was "astonishingly naive" to suggest that such a major consultation could be completed in just nine months. Iain Whyte, the city's Tory leader, added: "It seems madness to close schools when people want to send their children there.

"We will want to see the proposals in much more detail, but they have not taken account of parental wishes in coming up with this plan."

The council's education department overspent by 8.6 million last year, largely due to the growing demand for services for vulnerable youngsters. In June, it emerged that the council faced a 10 million budget black-hole.

The Liberal Democrat-SNP coalition insists widespread cuts are the only way to avoid an 8 per cent rise in council-tax bills next year. The local authority hopes to save as much as 2.5 million by closing the schools, nurseries and community centres.

Colin Mackay, Edinburgh secretary of the EIS teaching union, raised questions about why some of the schools had been targeted.

He said: "Areas of multiple deprivation are the areas where schools should be safeguarded because they have a breadth of expertise in dealing with the social problems there.

"If you close the schools, you move the problems elsewhere, to schools without the expertise and the breadth of experience needed."

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But he added: "At the end of the day, the council needs to trim the number of desks because they don't have the right number of bums to put on seats."

A council spokeswoman last night refused to discuss the plans until parents had been told. But she added: "This is being done for educational purposes.

"We have falling school rolls. We need to make more efficient use of buildings and provide the best education for children."

• ALMOST 8,000 council workers in the capital are set to strike next week in protest against cuts to services.

Members of Unison voted by over two-to-one to take action on Thursday unless assurances are received that measures to deal with a 10 million budget shortfall will not include redundancies.

The walk-out is timed to coincide with an Edinburgh City Council meeting where a decision is due to be made on the cuts.

George Lee, Unison's Edinburgh branch secretary, said: "Even at this late stage, the council's own staff and their union have been kept in the dark about what the cuts options are. The only thing the council has been clear about is that it cannot rule out redundancies."

John Ross, the union's service conditions convener, added: "Many council staff are already under huge pressures to manage services without the resources they need. They cannot take any more and that is why our members have voted for action.

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"This is not about waste or overspends, it is about unrealistic budgets and staff struggling to maintain services."

About 30 per cent of Unison's members returned the ballot. The union said 70 per cent of respondents supported a strike.

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