Councillors clash over school closure plans

Tanshall Primary School, Glenrothes
Tanshall Primary School, Glenrothes

FIFE Council’s SNP group leader has claimed no schools in Kirkcaldy and the Lochgelly and Cowdenbeath areas were earmarked for closure during the review of the schools estate for political reasons.

Councillor Peter Grant blasted moves to close Tanshall Primary in Glenrothes - along with schools in Dunfermline and north east Fife - and pointed out schools in areas represented by Labour administration leader, Councillor Alex Rowley, and deputy leader, Councillor David Ross, had escaped 
the axe.

But Labour members hit back, accusing others of playing politics with children’s education, claiming some councillors had been scaremongering by going to parents and saying “your school will be next”.

To prevent this, a Labour motion ruling out any further school closure programmes during the term of this council was approved at Tuesday’s executive committee meeting.

Supporters of the ‘Save Tanshall Primary’ campaign demonstrated outside Fife House prior to the meeting, and submitted a 600 signature petition opposing the proposed closure.

An emotional Councillor Grant praised the fantastic commitment of the parents of Tanshall and, vowing to fight against the proposed closure, he asked: “Why is Glenrothes being singled out when Kirkcaldy, Cowdenbeath and Lochgelly are not being targeted?

“Why are there 1500 empty school places being left in Kirkcaldy, and 1200 in Lochgelly and Cowdenbeath?”

Turning to Cllrs Rowley and Ross, he accused them of being scared to take tough decisions and of “protecting their own political careers”.

However, Labour councillors stressed the review of the schools estate was carried out by the education service without political interference, and accused the SNP of “hysterical behaviour”.

They stressed the proposals would half the number of schools in poor condition, meaning pupils would be taught in better facilities.

And they pointed out there would be further improvements to other 
school buildings, with £6m being invested in upgrading schools.

Cllr Rowley said that with 19,000 surplus school places, and many buildings in poor condition, his administration had taken tough decisions avoided by previous councils.

“This is about children’s education and how best to deliver that in Fife,” he said. “It’s about doing everything we can to give them the best education and the best possible start in life.

“Doing nothing is not an option - that would be a betrayal of every child in Fife.

“We won’t fix the whole school estate in one go. It will take time, a number of years, but we are starting the process.”

The seven schools earmarked for closure will now be subject of statutory consultations.

Although a further programme of closures during the term of this council has been ruled out, there could be individual cases for closure, for example Viewforth High, if progress is made on providing a new school for Kirkcaldy East.