A MULTI-MILLION pound spend to ease chronic overcrowding in schools was today being put to the test – as 23 brand new classrooms were unveiled to pupils on the first day of term.
The classrooms were opened after £8 million was ploughed into emergency extensions and upgrades at Towerbank, Corstorphine, Granton, Trinity and Wardie primary schools, with additional teaching space also created at James Gillespie’s, Blackhall, Holy Cross, St Mary’s Leith, Craigour Park and Oxgangs.
The Capital, thanks to its planning laws and a soaring population, has Scotland’s most overcrowded primary schools and pupil numbers are set to jump by nearly a fifth over the next seven years.
But education chiefs today said the problem of cramped schools was being brought under control and hailed the new classrooms as the first step towards a better future for Edinburgh’s primaries.
Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “Many local authorities across the United Kingdom are struggling to find sustainable solutions to the increase in pupil numbers.
“In Edinburgh, primary school rolls are predicted to rise by 19 per cent by 2020 – bringing our primary school population to over 31,000. That’s why the Capital Coalition has pledged an extra £15m to tackle the issue. The foundations we are laying here in Edinburgh demonstrate that the Capital is prepared for the complex challenges that lie ahead. We believe our approach allows us the flexibility to plan much better for the future, and we are working with school communities and parent councils as we move forward.”
Education bosses said their latest investment would mean the creation of up to 750 new pupil spaces across the city, with a further five schools - Victoria, Liberton, Craigour, Broughton and St David’s - earmarked for possible expansion in time for the 2014-15 session. And with the help of revised planning mechanisms designed specifically to deal with the issue of rising rolls, education leaders said they would be able to respond more efficiently and flexibly to demand for new teaching space.
They said that when schools are identified as possible candidates for extra accommodation for the next school year, the relevant design and planning permissions would automatically be taken forward, but the decisive green light would only be given when final pupil registration numbers are confirmed.
Parents and opposition leaders welcomed the investment but said the Capital was far from solving the problem of cramped primaries and attacked the loss of non-core and general teaching space as city leaders scramble to provide more classrooms.
A mother of two pupils at Wardie Primary, who asked not to be named, said: “Yes, it’s good they’re adding on new classrooms but they don’t have the other facilities at the school to cope.
“There’s not enough space in the gym, for example – and when the weather is bad, the kids who have packed lunches end up eating in the gym hall because there’s not enough space in the school dining hall.”
Lindsay Law, parent representative on the Capital’s education committee, also welcomed the investment but warned there would be disappointment among many families at the lack of an obvious long-term solution to relentlessly rising pressure on city classrooms.
She said: “I think the classrooms will be well received – but there are still lots of schools across the city that have cramped accommodation and are losing facilities which are being turned into classrooms.
“The council needs to take a long-term view across the city, and deliver excellent standards for all children at all schools. There are plenty of schools where extra classrooms have come at the expense of drama rooms or general purpose space.”
Councillor Melanie Main, left, who is education spokeswoman for the Capital’s Green group, said: “Parents will be delighted that new space has been provided in time for the new term.
“However, this year is just the lower reaches of a gradually rising wave over the next six years which will see primary school numbers continue to grow. Given that the children were born back in 2008 and 2009, the rising rolls have been totally predictable which is why closing seven primary schools in the last five years was so foolish.”
In June, the Evening News revealed up to 20 city primary schools would be upgraded by 2019 as part of a £14.9m investment.
Where the money has gone
AS primary school pupils returned to school today, education bosses released a report card on where cash has been splashed to ease chronic overcrowding in cramped city classrooms.
Towerbank Primary School: £4 million invested in eight new and refurbished classrooms, and a separate nursery building.
Wardie Primary School: Received a share of £2m to create three new classrooms.
Corstorphine Primary School: £2m invested in a new dining hall, activity space, kitchen, two new classroom spaces, breakfast club room and general purpose room.
Trinity Primary School: Received a share of £2m to create four new classrooms.
Granton Primary School: Received a share of £2m to create two new classrooms.
As well as new classrooms, temporary units at James Gillespie’s and Blackhall have been refurbished, while space for more pupils has been created at James Gillespie’s, Holy Cross, St Mary’s Leith, Craigour Park and Oxgangs.