James Gillespie High School may turn away catchment students

Headteacher  Donald J Macdonald is joined by sixth year pupils to celebrate James Gillespie's being named Scottish State School of the Year 2015. Picture:   Neil Hanna
Headteacher Donald J Macdonald is joined by sixth year pupils to celebrate James Gillespie's being named Scottish State School of the Year 2015. Picture: Neil Hanna
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JAMES Gillespie’s High School may become the first secondary in the Capital to refuse places to children who live in the catchment area.

Education bosses have calculated that despite increasing the S1 intake for August from 200 to 220 to cope with demand, the school may have to turn away up to nine pupils who would normally have a right to go there.

James Gillespie’s is one of the city’s top-performing schools. It is best known for providing the inspiration for Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. And in December it won the accolade of Scottish State School of the Year 2015.

A report to next week’s education committee explains the school in Marchmont currently has 243 pupils from the catchment registered to start S1 in August, but this is expected to reduce to 229 in line with past years.

A review of timetabling and accommodation requirements suggested the S1 intake could be increased from 200 to 220, meaning nine catchment pupils “may not be successful in gaining a place”. The pupils most likely to lose out are youngsters currently attending the city’s Gaelic-medium primary school.

Gillespie’s is the designated secondary school to which pupils transfer from the Gaelic primary.

But the council’s policy, if it does have to prioritise pupils within a catchment area, is once it has provided for children with siblings already at the school to refuse those who live furthest away from the school.

And since Gaelic-medium pupils come from all over the city, they are likely to be affected first.

Alternative places would be offered to these pupils at Tynecastle High School, which also has some Gaelic provision, or they could choose the mainstream school in their own catchment area.

Parents of Gaelic-medium pupils said the transition process for the children had already begun and they had been left anxious and upset by the latest news.

Spokeswoman Jennifer Gilmour said: “The uncertainty is very upsetting for 11/12-year-olds who have already toured their ‘new school’.”

She said there had been no consultation on the proposals with parents and pointed out Tynecastle had no Gaelic-medium education, but rather taught it in the same way as French or German. “It is entirely inappropriate to children who have spent seven or eight years in full immersion Gaelic-medium education.”

She also suggested the nearby Darroch annexe, used during the redevelopment of the school, could be considered as extra accommodation.

Education convener Paul Godzik said numbers were being monitored carefully and he expected all catchment pupils who lived within the vicinity of Gillespie’s would get places. He added: “There has been continued collaboration between Gillespie’s and Tynecastle and that is why Tynecastle could provide an alternative for pupils unable to secure a place at Gillespie’s.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com