Councillor Paul Godzik, Education Convener, talks about the issue of rising primary school rolls being one of the most pressing issues facing the Council.
We expect primary school rolls to go up by 19% by 2020 which would mean more than 31,000 children needing to be accommodated at our schools (compared with 26,000 now). There is a finite limit on space and finances so the Council has a responsibility to plan ahead to tackle this issue and come up with potential solutions.
These complex problems were highlighted last week with Stockbridge Primary School, where one solution put forward involved 46 pupils being taught by two teachers. As well as this a number of other potential solutions have been looked at and discussed with the Head Teacher and the Parent Council. These included using general purpose space as an additional classroom and the relocation of the After School Club. What is clear is that there is no perfect solution, to what is an extremely difficult problem, but as a Council we are determined to listen to parental views and work with the school community as we move forward.
So how do we go about coming up with solutions to this issue? One is to increase classroom space to cope with the added pressure. At the start of the next session in August there will be extraspace at 11 different primary schools –Corstorphine, Towerbank, James Gillespies, Wardie, Trinity and Granton will all have new classrooms.
We will have refurbished the temporary units at James Gillespies and Blackhall, while internal space will be reconfigured at Holy Cross, St Mary’s Leith, Craigour Park and Oxgangs to allow for more pupils.
Finally, team teaching – where classes over 25 pupils have an extra teacher – has been widely used in Edinburgh schools for many years and help us reach the class size targets set by the Scottish Government. Although a class may well be larger the ratio of teachers to pupils is lower which means pupils benefit from the skills of more than one teacher, and have more teacher time per pupil. This can lead to really effective teaching and learning and the shared experience can benefit both staff and pupils.
In the longer term finding a sustainable solution to the problem of rising rolls is really important. We have to ensure that there is space available for our pupils, and the quality of the overall school environment is preserved. That is why we have set up a cross-party working group to look specifically at the matter. It's also why, as an administration, we've boosted the funding available for tackling these issues to £15 million.
Finally, we believe it is vital that all options regarding how accommodation pressures can be resolved are fully discussed with school communities and parent councils before arriving at any final proposals.
Rising primary school rolls and classroom pressures will be with us for many years to come. It is imperative the Council, in partnership with schools and parents, consider all the solutions to ensure that every child in Edinburgh gets the best start in life.