CHILDREN as young as ten will complete their primary education in the Capital’s high schools under radical proposals being explored by city chiefs.
The Evening News can reveal education bosses have assigned a team of experts to identify primary and secondary schools which could become candidates for what they admit would be a “wholesale shift” in the city’s approach to teaching.
First mooted as a solution to the problem of chronic overcrowding at several primaries, the idea of relocating P7 classes to secondaries is being examined on a city-wide basis.
Education officers said there would be “benefits” in primary-age youngsters being timetabled within the high school curriculum and having access to specialist teachers. Specialists will now be considering at which primaries relocation of P7s might be introduced.
The idea has split opinion among parents, teachers and education experts, who said there would be huge risks in thrusting thousands of youngsters who were not ready into a secondary school environment.
Education chiefs stressed the development was at a very early stage, but admitted it was being actively investigated after a request from a cross-party working group at the city council. Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “The pressure on classroom spaces in our primary schools is one the Capital coalition is acutely aware of and, in the longer term, finding a sustainable solution to this problem is vitally important.
“That is why we have allocated £15 million and set up a cross-party working group to look at ways of tackling the issue of rising rolls.
“We are always open to different solutions such as building new classrooms or creating extra space in existing schools. One possible solution put forward was relocating some P7 classes to secondary schools.
“We do not believe this is feasible in the short or even medium term, but the cross-party working group have requested that officers investigate if it could work for schools in the same area.
“Although there could be benefits if schools were in the same cluster, it would require statutory consultation and a considerable shift in the city’s approach to education.
“The council will continue to work alongside head teachers and local parent councils at ways to tackle rising rolls, however, we need to ensure solutions are deliverable.”
The investigation comes as education bosses continue to battle severe overcrowding at schools across the city, with emergency extensions built or planned at several primaries now bursting at the seams amid relentlessly rising rolls.
Acute accommodation pressure has resulted in some schools being forced to use dining rooms as gym halls, while many youngsters regularly eat lunch at their classroom desks.
In a new report, education officers said relocating P7s to high schools had been discounted as a solution to the rising rolls issue because it was felt “ad hoc” school-by-school implementation would negate any learning benefit.
But they said “a good educational argument” for the approach could be formed if relocation was carried out on a “city-wide cluster basis as part of a wider estate strategy”.
Critics, however, have attacked the idea as one with little educational merit which could do long-term damage to the development of many youngsters who lack the maturity required to handle the demands of secondary school life.
Catriona Luff, chair of Firrhill High parent council, warned that wholesale relocation of P7 children would deprive them of one of the key formative experiences of childhood.
She said: “You’re putting them into S1 a year earlier – you’re taking away lots of the pleasures of being a P7.
“They’re at the top of the primary school, so that when they move on to high school, they have that confidence. Take that away from them and you’re taking away lots of the things only P7s get – being prefects, getting to be buddies for the P1s.”
Lindsay Law, parent representative on the city council’s education committee, branded any move as “reactionary” and said: “Many parents choose to send their children to a different secondary school than the one their primary feeds into. For these children, there will be unnecessary disruption as they have to get used to one new school, then another.”
Education expert Terry Wrigley, editor of Improving Schools, urged caution and said: “Is the proposal simply to move some P7 classes to a nearby high school building, or to push them into the standard high school curriculum? While there may be some benefit from earlier introduction of specialist science, for example, I don’t believe we should abandon the principle of a class teacher for most of the P7 curriculum.”
But the idea has received support from union and political leaders. Neil McLean, Edinburgh secretary for the NASUWT teaching union, said: “There’s been an argument over the years that S1 and S2 are wasted, with pupils repeating lots of stuff they did before. This could help address that issue.”
And councillor Jason Rust, education spokesman for the city’s Conservative group, said: “On the whole, I think it is to be broadly welcomed, but there needs to be real engagement with parents, pupils and staff to ensure the necessary support is in place.”
PRESSURE CONTINUES TO BUILD
THE move towards relocating P7 youngsters to secondaries comes as new figures show the pressure bearing down on primary school classrooms as a result of rising rolls is as high as ever.
Now approaching 27,000, the primary school roll is projected to soar to 30,784 by 2020 – an increase of nearly a fifth on the 2012 figure.
The jump means that, from a low of 24,500 in 2009, rolls will have increased by more than a quarter by 2019.
With its working capacity recently measured to be just under 31,000, the Capital’s primary school estate now has minimal wriggle room to cope with sudden changes in demand.
In some areas of the city, the pressure is particularly acute.
Around Calder Road and in Craigmillar, Niddrie and Bingham, there is plenty of capacity over and above that needed by enrolled pupils.
But across the centre of the city, in an area running from Flora Stevenson and Broughton through to Pentland, Gracemount and Gilmerton, there are only around seven spare classrooms to accommodate a spike in applications at some of Edinburgh’s most sought-after primaries.
The relentlessly rising pressure on the Capital’s school admissions system has also constrained the ability of parents to choose which primary they can send their children to.
According to newly obtained figures, the rate of refusal of out-of-catchment placing requests to popular schools has soared.
In 2009, out of 865 requests, 152, or 18 per cent, were rejected. By autumn of this year, the rate had more than doubled, with 316 out of 859 requests refused.
In an effort to alleviate the pressure, education chiefs will now look to take forward a range of accommodation-boosting measures at ten primary schools.
Is ten too young to start at school
KENNY Campbell, 65, who taught history and guidance for 27 years, said P7 children were too young to move to high school:
“The move to secondary is such a radical change for many P7 children that you would need some very compelling argument to justify it.
“I’m sure there are good reasons in terms of finance or making better use of accommodation, but I find it hard to see what the educational advantage would be.
“Children of that age are vulnerable – they struggle to adapt to the ethos of a secondary, the curriculum, the way it’s organised, the geography of a much bigger building.
“It’s adjusting from being taught by one person who knows you really well to someone who has responsibility for several classes and many more people. I speak from a lot of guidance experience. Children who struggle when they come into high school very rarely make a complete recovery – there’s knock-on effect right down the years as they go through school.
“It’s much easier to identify problems in primary. Bullying, for example, is much easier to pick up and deal with at primary level.
“And on the argument primary school kids would benefit from access to specialist teachers, often high school pupils have to make do without specialists in some subject areas already.
ALAN McKenzie, acting general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, said relocating children as young as ten to high schools could unlock a host of educational benefits.
“I would say the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. If it’s simply relocating a P7 class to a secondary school building, I think one of the positives would be in terms of the transition between primary and secondary.
“P7 kids are usually ready to move into a bigger school environment, and something like this would certainly assist in doing that.
“For many P7s, the move to a bigger school is a good thing. They are ready to leave the general environment of primary school and meet the challenges of secondary school. And in terms of the school estate, we have to think outside the box and maximise the resources that are there.
“If they are going to the big school, they’ll still be taught in P7 classes. And community schools – where you have joint campuses and joint head teachers – have already worked in rural areas of Scotland.
“But because primary and secondary school teachers would effectively be members of the same staff, great vigilance will have to be employed to stop secondary teachers taking over bits of the primary curriculum – and vice versa.
“The SSTA would be very alarmed by that.”