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June 15, 2003

Protesters fight to stop closure of deaf school

From: Scotland on Sunday, UK - Jun 15, 2003


A SCHOOL for the deaf with a remarkable 100% Standard Grade pass rate has been earmarked for closure, prompting the local community, staff and pupils to launch a campaign to save the institution.

Earnock High in Hamilton has integrated 10 profoundly deaf pupils and another two with impaired hearing into its mainstream curriculum alongside the rest of the school's roll of 870.

It recently earned far-reaching praise for its achievements and its ethos in a report by HM Inspectorate of Schools.

Deaf pupils at the school have been sitting Standard Grade exams every year since 1994 at a rate of an average of six exams each. In that time, not a single deaf pupil has failed an exam.

South Lanarkshire Council is intent on closing the school and moving the deaf pupils and their teachers two miles to Blantyre High, leaving the Earnock site free for development as part of a £182m programme of school building and renovation.

The chairman of the school board, the Rev David Burt, said it "would rip the heart out of the community and leave pupils with a long walk to school".

He added: ""The reality is that we have spent 10 years developing something very special at Earnock, and that cannot be reconstructed overnight at Blantyre."

Eileen Walker, who lives in Stonehouse, is the mother of a former deaf pupil at Earnock. Her son, Craig, who was diabetic, died last year.

She said last night: "Like everyone else who has experience of the school, I am desperate to see it saved.

"Craig had a terrible time at specialist residential schools for the deaf. There was nothing like that at Earnock, where he learned that even though he was deaf he could expect to be treated with respect and affection.

"Most of what he learned in his life, he learned at Earnock. I would be desperately sorry to see it go."

Earnock's proposed closure is part of South Lanarkshire's plans to invest £182m in new school buildings, closing some establishments where the buildings are in poor repair and investing the money in those they consider more viable and creating a number of super schools in the Hamilton and East Kilbride areas.

A senior Labour councillor on the authority said: "We're offering the public new schools and they're marching against it. I can't understand that. Do they want their kids educated under a leaky roof?"