Attempt by SNP to save St Joseph’s Primary has failed

Parents demonstrating about proposed closure of St Joseph's Primary School
Parents demonstrating about proposed closure of St Joseph's Primary School

Hopes that controversial plans to close Milngavie’s only Catholic school would be put on hold have been dashed.

The proposals to merge St Joseph’s Primary with St Andrew’s Primary in neighbouring Bearsden have faced strong opposition from parents and the local community.

But last night East Dunbartonshire Council dismissed a call by SNP group leader Ian Mackay to suspend its scrapping.

He asked the full council to stop further work until consideration is given to a report from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, which has received a “case for support” bid against the council from the parents’ group.

Campaigning parents have accused the council of “walking away from its responsibilities” to Catholic families.

They launched plans last month to set up a government-funded community school in Milngavie at a special meeting attended by more than 130 people.

Councillor Mackay’s motion at last night’s meeting asked the council to “agree, in the light of recent and new developments, to suspend all work on the closure of St Joseph’s and St Andrew’s primary schools and the merger into a new primary school in Bearsden.”

At the meeting in council HQ, Councillor Mackay said the school had been “indirectly discriminated against” and asked for a “genuine free vote” to be given to councillors for his motion.

He added: “We face St Joseph’s leaving the education system. If there was a genuine free vote here tonight, this closure would not take place.”

Council leader Rhondda Geekie said it was “insulting” of Councillor Mackay to ask for a free vote, adding she did not have that relationship with councillors.

She put forward an amendment that the council “continue to work with St Joseph’s and St Andrew’s to build a brand new denominational primary school within a modern facility.”

This was seconded by Councillor Ashay Ghai who said he was “baffled by the comments made by Councillor Mackay,” adding that the ruling Lab/LibDem/Tory administration worked “as a team.”

He said there was concern among parents at St Andrew’s that the new school would be “scuppered.”

Councillor Eric Gotts called Councillor Mackay’s motion “a wrecking motion” and cited the new Lairdsland School in Kirkintilloch as an example of the benefits of a brand new facility for pupils.

Councillor Mackay said: “I am not against new schools.”

He added: “The closure of this school and the impact on the local community is wrong” and he vowed: “I will try to save this school.”

He was backed by fellow SNP councillors, including Councillor Keith Small who said: “There is no support for this plan. Opinions have not changed. There are alternative proposals worth listening to.”

More than 500 people in both Milngavie and Bearsden took part in the council’s original consultation process, with 87 per cent opposing the merger.

The council says the school is under-occupied, with just 45 per cent of places filled.

Councillor Mackay’s motion also included a call for Audit Scotland’s Option Appraisal recommendations to be properly considered and resolved, and the implications of a forthcoming Community Empowerment Bill to be fully assessed and considered by elected members in relation to the current closure proposal.

His motion was defeated by 13-8 votes.