AS many as 40 primary schools could close their doors to children outwith their catchment area this summer – fuelling alarm education chiefs are failing to plan ahead when it comes to providing enough school spaces.
Fears have been raised over rising rolls in the city’s “bursting” schools, with parents being warned most out-of-catchment requests for children are likely to be refused this year. The city council estimates 46 per cent of its 87 primary schools – or around 40 – will not be accepting any placing requests this year.
Their worrying prediction follows a huge “surge” in primary school registrations.
They have risen by more than five per cent over the last year, as immigration and birth rates continue to climb.
As a result, education chiefs will have to find school places for 200 extra children due to start primary one in August. The increase in primary school registrations is set to continue over the next decade, with a growth of 20 per cent expected by 2020 – sparking concerns among parents and opposition councillors that not enough long-term planning is being done to accommodate additional pupil numbers.
Green education spokeswoman Councillor Melanie Main said parents are getting a raw deal at the end of a period where a large number of schools have been cut and not enough has been done to project ahead.
She said: “This day has been five years in coming, so what has the council been doing to get ready for it?
“Parents will want to be sure that if they are being turned away, it is because there is physically no space – not just because the council wants to avoid forming an extra class.”
Councillor Paul Godzik, the city’s education leader, said “placing” or out-of-catchment requests were getting “even more difficult” to accommodate, and the reality is that many parents “will need to understand they may not get their request”.
“We are looking at more than 700 placing requests, the vast majority of which schools will not be able to accommodate,” he said.
“Parents who have submitted a placing request should be prepared for the fact that they may not get the place they were hoping for, and recent experience has been that appeals are unlikely to be successful.
“However, their child will be registered with their local catchment school and will start in August alongside other local children.”
By January this year, 4488 children had registered for primary one – compared with 4289 children at the same time last year. The 2013 figures are made up of 734 placing requests and 3754 registrations for catchment schools.
Opposition leaders said the decision to close seven city primary schools over the last five years meant the council’s options were now limited.
One plan – to build new classrooms at four schools – has already been criticised. We told last month how heritage watchdog the Cockburn Association had slammed plans to add modern extensions to Trinity, Wardie, Granton and Victoria primary schools. The body said the council would be better off saving the money it intended to spend, and build a whole new school instead.
Susan Edwards, chair of Victoria Primary’s Parent Council, said that the previous administration’s move to close several primary schools in the area had contributed towards the remaining schools being over- subscribed. “The council closed too many schools in our cluster – Bonnington, Fort and Royston primaries,” said the mum, whose daughter is in primary seven at Victoria.
“The amount of catchment kids in the area has gone up and up. In our cluster, there are no spaces full stop. If you aren’t in that school catchment, there’s no way you would get a space because there’s not enough spaces for children in the catchment, never mind kids coming from outwith.”
Meanwhile, chair of Trinity Primary Parent Council, Paul Jeffrey, 44, who has two children at the school, urged the council to consider the long-term impact of rising rolls.
Mother-of-three Xanthe O’Brien, 43, who lives in Craigentinny, sent her oldest daughter, Flora, six, to the Royal High Primary, which isn’t her catchment school. The family is now waiting to see if Flora’s younger sister, four-year-old Josie, will get a place at the same school.
She said: “I would like to know if the council’s warning about out-of- catchment applications also applies to those who already have a child at a school and are hoping to get a brother or sister into the same school.
“It would make life very difficult for parents if they have to take one of their children to one primary school and another to a different one, when all primaries start and finish at the same time.”
Among the schools likely to face problems with fulfilling pupil requests in August are Sciennes, Liberton and James Gillespie’s primaries.
However, Councillor Godzik pointed out that there had been a 15 per cent reduction in placing requests over the last year, from 855 in January 2012 to 734 requests this year.
“Thankfully, this year we have seen some progress following a concerted campaign to educate parents about their local catchment school and the benefits of their child attending there,” he said.
But for many schools, the increased roll is even presenting challenges in meeting demand from catchment pupils.
Cllr Main said she hoped the worrying projections would serve as a “reality check” for the council.
“We need long-term thinking if schools are to cope. We urgently need long-term sustainable planning for our dilapidated school estate. Finding space in already crowded schools for more children every year will get harder and harder.
“It’s not just additional classrooms, there is growing pressure on dining rooms, gyms and playgrounds to say the least. Ultimately, we will need new fit-for-purpose schools to give our children the learning environment they need and deserve.
“Greens were saying five years ago that the rolls would rise now. At that time the then-administration was closing schools.”
Conservative education spokesman Councillor Jason Rust said long-term thinking from the council was “desperately required”.
He said: “The council also needs to look at the core reasoning why parents are voting with their children’s feet and opting for certain schools rather than others.”
Over the last five years Lismore, Bonnington, Drumbrae, Fort, Westburn, Royston and Burdiehouse primary schools have all closed.
LORRAINE McMurdo’s five-year-old son Jamie was refused an out-of-catchment request for Royal High Primary – despite an older brother already attending there.
Mrs McMurdo told the council she would be forced to take Rhys, nine, out of the Royal High if Jamie’s appeal was unsuccessful, as she would be unable to be in “two places at the same time”.
Despite this, the 32-year-old, was told Jamie would have to go to his catchment school – Windygoul Primary in Tranent. Rhys, who has ADHD, and was settled in the school, was eventually moved last November after it became too difficult for Mrs McMurdo to drop the two boys off and collect them from different schools at the same time.
“I tried to do the two schools but it wasn’t possible,” she said. “I was having to drop Rhys off at the playground in the morning when there was nobody there, and come back to have Jamie at school for the same time - they both started at 8.55am.”
Mrs McMurdo, whose eldest son Ryan, 12, is at Ross High School, added: “I’m still very upset that I’ve had to move Rhys away from all his friends and everybody he had very close relationships with. Rhys is still very upset. It’s been a lot of stress, not just for us as parents but for Rhys as well.
“I just feel in a way that the council has let Rhys down. I had letters from the doctors backing up that it would be detrimental to move schools, but there was just no leeway at all.”
FIVE-year-old Mia Gould was refused a place at a primary minutes from her home - after being ruled just outside the catchment area.
Mia’s mother Mary Quin, who lives in Restalrig, wanted her daughter to start Hermitage Park Primary School last August.
However, the youngster was refused a place because the family flat in Barleyhill Terrace was outside the catchment for the school.
When Miss Quin, 33, pointed out all the other homes on the street – excluding her block of flats – were within the catchment area she appealed.
But an independent committee ruled in favour of the local authority at a hearing last June.
However, after spending three days at her catchment school, Mia was allocated the place the she badly wanted at Hermitage Park. No explanation on the U-turn was provided.
Miss Quin said: “I don’t know if someone had maybe dropped out.
“I was ecstatic and Mia was ecstatic, because she was getting to go to school with her friends.
“Mia had attended nursery at Hermitage Park for two years.”