The occupation of the Wyndford Primary School and St. Gregory’s Primary School in Glasgow which began on Friday 3 April is part of a Glasgow-wide campaign (Save Our Schools) triggered by proposals for a city-wide cull of primary schools and nurseries.
In January a meeting of the Glasgow City Council Executive Committee agreed in principle to shut down 13 primary schools and 12 nurseries, attended in total by more than 2,000 children. Later a full meeting of the City Council endorsed the proposals.
In previous rounds of school closures the City Council has defended closures on the basis that old schools will be replaced (somewhere else) by new schools. This time round, however, there are to be closures – but no new schools.
According to one City Council spokesperson: “In the past, when the Council has closed schools, it has built new ones. But in the current global financial crisis it cannot afford to build new schools and nurseries, and can no longer use PPPs.”
And according to the City Council leader Steven Purcell: “We cannot afford to build new schools and nurseries through prudential borrowing. The Scottish Government refuses to use PPP and there is no sign of its suggested replacement, the Scottish Futures Trust, being able to provide the schools and nurseries we need.”
PPP stands for Public Private Partnership. This is simply the New Labour version of the Tories’ Private Finance Initiative (PFI). The Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) is the SNP’s planned replacement for PPP.
Whatever the initials, however, they all boil down to the same thing: opening up the construction of public sector infrastructure (such as schools, hospitals, motorways and fire stations) to the private sector. And wherever the private sector is involved, what counts is profit, not decent facilities for public use.
(In an earlier incarnation Steven Purcell was once a signatory to the statement issued by the Scottish Campaign for Socialism in defence of the Labour Party’s old Clause Four, which committed the Party to the principle of public ownership. But now, as City Council leader, he’s clearly decided that the profit motive isn’t so bad after all.)
The City Council’s ‘justification’ for the closures is purely economic: the closures will, it claims, result in ‘savings’ of £3.7 millions a year, ranging from an estimated £241,000 from closing Albert Primary to an estimated £32,445 from closing Merrylee Nursery.
The Council has also claimed that in deciding which schools and nurseries to propose for closure it has applied criteria such as educational benefit, building capacity and occupancy, transport arrangements and the wider community impact.
And, just to underline its supposed democratic and people-empowering credentials, the Council extended the consultation period for its proposals, which began on 2nd February, from four weeks to six weeks, and promised public meetings at each of the threatened schools to discuss their proposed closure.
In the event, ever since the proposed closures were first announced by the City Council Executive Committee parents throughout Glasgow have been campaigning in defence of the threatened schools and nurseries and challenging the arguments being put forward by the Council.
Demonstrations have been held in front of the City Chambers and also in the localities where the threatened schools are located. Local consultation meetings have left Council officials floundering. 45 public meetings have been held. 8,000 responses, overwhelmingly hostile, have sent been in to the Council. And the anti-closures campaigning has had generally favourable coverage in the media.
Parents have hammered home the point that the closures will break up local communities, create larger classes in the receiving schools, and lead to children travelling a lot further to and from school.
The closures, if they go ahead, will also cause extra expenditure for those parents who have to start paying for after-school care as they cannot reach the new school in time to pick up their children at the end of the school day.
The final decision on the proposed closures will take place at a full City Council meeting on 23rd April. It is not a question of deciding whether this school or that school should be kept open or shut down, but of ensuring that none of the schools are closed.
Messages of support to: Nicola, 07894 123 721.