Being prepared is key to future school plans

Education Convener, Councillor Paul Godzik, writes about the Council's plans for tackling the issue of rising rolls.

Rising school rolls is an issue being faced by a number of local authorities both in Scotland and across the UK. Here in Edinburgh it is undoubtedly a challenge dealing with the complexity of an increased birth rate, significant new housing developments, increased entitlements in early years, and the demographic shifts within local communities in a fast-paced city such as ours.

Over the last few years the Capital Coalition has provided significant investment to deal with rising rolls in our primary schools.  In 2013 we delivered new classrooms at Granton, Wardie and Trinity Primary schools, while this year we opened new high quality classrooms at Broughton, Craigour Park, St David’s and Victoria, with significant internal improvements at Stockbridge, Flora Stevenson’s, Fox Covert and Gylemuir.  In doing so we’ve provided parents with certainty that space will be available in their local catchment school.

At the same time we’ve fully funded the ‘Wave 3’ schools programme, with work well underway at James Gillespie’s High School, and diggers about to move in at both Boroughmuir and Portobello. We’ve also started the process of identifying possible ‘Wave 4’ schools, focusing on secondary schools which have not had any significant investment in the last fifteen years and primary schools with a condition ‘C’ rating; while also through the most extensive condition surveys in a generation outlining a programme of investment of £30m over the next five years to improve school condition. I fully recognise that there is much further work to do on condition, and I know all Councillors will look hard at our budget as we move toward setting it in February 2015.

In early years we’ve delivered a new nursery at James Gillespie’s, extended Kirkliston Nursery, and have plans to replace dilapidated nursery buildings at Granton Early Years Centre as well as Corstorphine, Longstone, Davidson’s Mains and Duddingston primary schools; expand the early years facilities at the new St John’s RC Primary, and provide completely new nurseries at Fox Covert and Wardie Primary Schools.

Yet it is obvious that the bulge in primary rolls will eventually impact on the secondary sector. Despite some misinformed reports this is not expected for a number of years. The latest analysis suggests that existing capacity in the secondary estate will be sufficient to meet demand for the remainder of this decade. So, while it is premature to outline detailed plans and risk heightening parental concern we are starting to look at possible solutions now. Parental engagement and consultation on any measures, through our Consultative Committee with Parents, our new parental neighbourhood groups and parent councils, would of course be paramount. However, much more importantly a city-wide assessment of capacity across the entire secondary school estate is underway and a draft updated Asset Management Plan will be presented to the Education Children & Families Committee later this year.

When this plan is complete it will outline a full assessment of all anticipated changes which may be required in the Children and Families estate (nursery, primary, secondary and other services) including the impact of rising rolls and the Local Development Plan.  But looking across our 88 primary schools, 23 secondary schools, nurseries, community centres, young people’s centres, and various other establishments is a significant piece of work. In spite of the real economic constraints we face we are providing the additional space we need in our schools, while also tackling historic underinvestment.

Calling for a plan is easy, but producing the right plan involves more than just empty soundbites and grandstanding, it takes time, hard work and needs consultation and discussion.  But I know that parents and pupils deserve and expect a detailed analysis, outlining our, not inconsiderable, challenges and suggesting a clear path forward, and that is what the Capital Coalition will deliver.

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