Image by Eddie Truman- SSP
HUNDREDS of protesters descended on the City Chambers today as councillors met for the first time to discuss controversial plans to axe 22 city schools.
Later councillors voted narrowly in favour of the radical programme of school closures.
The proposals for the phased closure of 22 nurseries, primary schools and secondary schools will now go out to consultation, after the city's Lib Dem-SNP coalition was forced to rely on the casting vote of Lord Provost George Grubb to save its plans from falling at the first hurdle.
Police were called in to control the huge crowd which gathered to voice their opposition to the closures.
And there were angry scenes inside the debating chamber after councillors voted not to let parents speak at the meeting leading to one furious mother being marched out of the building.
It came after the first meetings were held last night among parents and community activists to fight the plans.
Parents of children at under-threat Craigentinny Primary have agreed to a pupil strike and are encouraging other affected schools to join in.
Today, hundreds packed the railed-off courtyard in front of the City Chambers, with more being forced onto the Royal Mile.
Inside the main chamber, the Lib-Dem SNP coalition put forward a motion that deputations from schools should not be heard today but in later consultations instead. They also refused to let city MP Nigel Griffiths and Edinburgh North and Leith MSP Malcolm Chisholm speak.
Lisa Ross, 37, a student from Stenhouse - whose daughters Sophie, 9, and Charlotte, 7, attend the threatened St Cuthbert's Primary School - stormed into the meeting.
She shouted: "We want to be heard about school closures.
"How dare you make so many mistakes with our money - not your money, ours. We want to speak about school closures and you don't want to hear us. Who do you work for?"
Ms Ross' demand was met with enthusiastic applause from Labour councillors who had voted against the motion to refuse to hear them, along with Conservatives and Greens.
When the clapping died down, Ms Ross said: "You do not care about the people of Edinburgh and schools and education." She was then marched out of the Chambers. A group of around a dozen other parents were blocked from going in as the crowd that had been outside the Chambers since 8am shouted: "Save our schools, save our schools".
A group from Wester Hailes Education Centre surged to the front of the demonstration and started shouting: "Save Wester Hailes, Save Wester Hailes". They had their school ties tied around their foreheads and were jumping up and down, punching the air. They were then replaced by a group shouting: "Save Meadowbank, Save Meadowbank" as the different groups took it in turn to campaign for their under-threat neighbourhood facilities.
Both Craigentinny and Castlebrae organised meetings last night to plan how they will fight the council proposals yesterday evening, with about 150 people attending both.
Linda Brown, who organised the meeting at Craigentinny, told the packed school hall: "We need to let the council know we're not standing for this. Let's get the kids to go on strike on a Friday morning with placards, and if other affected schools want to go on strike too, let them."
There was a vote and all hands were raised in support of the idea.
At Castlebrae, parents vowed to make the council live up to its promise of a new high school for Craigmillar.
The packed hall also voted unanimously after Paul Nolan, one of the meeting's leaders and chairman of Craigmillar Community Council, said: "We completely and totally reject the absurd and unworkable proposal to merge Castlebrae with Liberton High School and also reject the downgrading of our school to an annexe.
We call on council to immediately reject both these ill thought out and dangerous proposals and to fulfil its promise to provide a new secondary school in the heart of the community."
The new Castlebrae High School is supposed to be built by 2011 and funded by Parc, the development agency set up to drive the regeneration of one of Scotland's poorest wards. If the present Castlebrae is selected for closure, children will either move to Liberton temporarily until the new school is built, or permanently as Parc is forced to scrap its plans.
Speaking at last night's meeting, an educational expert criticised the council's closures plans as "sloppy". The council says the ideal primary school should have 400 pupils, with the perfect population for a secondary between 900 and 1200.
Terry Wrigley, a senior lecturer in educational development at Edinburgh University, said: "There is no basis for believing larger schools are better, especially in poorer areas.
"It is better to have smaller schools close to the community, because teachers and parents have to work together, and that's not going to happen with a large school that's a great distance away."
Nursery children protested yesterday, supported by Unison and the Save Our Old Town campaign group. The protest songs were a little unusual - they sang The Sun Has Got His Hat On, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star - but the mood was still defiant.
Organiser Natasha Kirby, 29, of Morningside, whose daughter Giselle, four, attends Grassmarket Nursery, used a loud speaker. "This issue is devastating for our city, as well as on a social level. Because of the areas the council is looking at, this is targeting low-income families. These nursery buildings are at the heart of our communities. Councillor Marilyne MacLaren said this is not down to financial reasons - that's a farce, they want the land. The Grassmarket Nursery is on prime retail land. They talk about building maintenance work that needs doing, but that is something they should have been dealt with months ago."
The demonstrators carried banners which said "Save Our Old Town - No School Closures", "Save Westfield Court Nursery, Save Our Nurseries Please And Protect Our Common Good and Our Inheritance", and "No Schools Rachel Hay, from Balgreen, whose son Christian, four, attends Westfield Court Nursery School, said: "What we are hoping to achieve is to meet other nurseries, make contact with them, and ensure we stand together.
"Even if we escape this time, this could still happen to our nursery in the future. It could also have an effect on nurseries that don't close because three-year-old children may find they can't get a place because four-year-olds take priority, and there's a shortage of room."
A third meeting planned for Drummond High School last night was put off until next Tuesday so a parents' committee could be formalised.
Source: Edinburgh Evening News
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