As Castlebrae Community High School faces closure, a city leader and a former pupil debate its future

Castlebrae Community High School. Picture: Julie Howden

Castlebrae Community High School. Picture: Julie Howden

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CITY education leader Paul Godzik says the future of Castlebrae High is justifiably in the balance, but former pupil Lyndsay Martin argues it does not deserve to face closure

Castlebrae Community High School is a comprehensive secondary school serving the Craigmillar, Niddrie and Newcraighall communities.

The school building has been described as “an uninspiring grey breeze block building” and was built in the mid-1960s.

In 2000 the school received the first-ever Edinburgh education award for raising achievement. Just five years earlier not a single pupil had gone to college or university after leaving – a figure raised to one-in-three by the turn of the century. In 2008 plans were announced to create a new £30 million secondary school as a “centre of excellence” as part of a replacement and expansion plan. But on Tuesday it was revealed that the school was set to be closed by the council over falling numbers and poor results.

Paul Godzik: Closure decision is justified

Telling parents that we’re considering closing their school is never good news and never something that’s taken lightly. When I became convener of education, children and families in May this year, I knew there would be many challenges ahead. One thing I was clear about from the start was that decisions made by the Capital coalition must focus on what was best for Edinburgh’s pupils.

So with that in mind, it seems clear to me that we cannot ignore the problems that a school faces when it has so few pupils choosing to attend. The problems assosiated with Castlebrae have been around for some time but it is worth noting staff have made efforts over the years to improve the situation. 

However, the educational arguments to explore a possible closure of Castlebrae Community High School are very strong but I am adamant that no decision has yet been made to close the school. It is crucial that we consult fully with everyone to understand how they could be affected and only when we have that full picture can we come to a proper conclusion.

I know the threat of closure has hung over some primary and secondary schools for a number of years but its now time to bring an end to that uncertainty. Yes, we do need to look at Castlebrae, but its problems come from its unique situation – no matter what the outcome here, I can say for sure that no other primary or secondary school in Edinburgh will be closed during the lifetime of this administration.

Some people may ask how we can afford to keep half-empty schools open. The reality is that we know that increased birth rates mean that those primary schools with low rolls just now will see their numbers increase in the next few years and will be needed to meet the future demand for places.

Indeed, we are currently looking to increase capacity in the primary sector, with plans for a number of school extensions, and we have a strong desire to see an additional primary school in the south of the city. In the secondary sector, we’re seeing improvements across the board, apart from Castlebrae, and improved results combined with the predicted increases from birth rates and new building developments means that our secondary schools have a bright future ahead.

I hope parents who were worried in the past that their local school is too small to survive can now support it fully knowing its future is secure.

• Paul Godzik is convener of the city council’s education, children and families committee

Lyndsay Martin: Castlebrae is a good school

I was a student at Castlebrae and I have my daughter there now in her sixth year, so it has been a part of my life for a long time.

It is a good school – I went on to college, as did my brother, and my sister went straight into a job.

The children there work hard, and so they were absolutely gutted to hear the council say they are looking to close the school because of results. It makes people think that pupils there don’t do any work and nothing could be further from the truth.

I don’t think any parent would deny that the school needs investment though – we have been promised a new school for the last five years and if there was one already built then people would be quite happy for their children to go there.

But we have nothing, and what makes it worse is the feeling that the council have let the school deteriorate so they can turn around and close it.

There was talk of closing it back in 2007, and since then parents have often said there has been a lack of investment in small improvements or repairs to the building, and all that has taken its toll now.

As a result, some people have not been willing to put their children into the school, which has affected performance – if the building had seen some investment however then it’s very likely parents would have continued to send their children there.

Instead we are faced with a situation where there is no investment and a falling school roll as a result, and these are the arguments the council are making for closure.

The timing of this could not have been worse either - my daughter has sixth year exams to prepare for and she is really upset and worried for all her teachers and her friends.

The third and fourth year students also have exams and instead of concentrating on them they are now worrying about where they will be going to school next year

Parents are also angry at the way this has been presented as a consultation, as everything we have heard is about what will happen once the school is closed – it seems very much like they have already decided to close the school and are just going through the motions.

Hopefully if they do listen to parents they will realise that there is as school worth saving and come up with an alternative to closure.

• Lynsday Martin, 34, is a concerned parent of a Castlebrae Community High School pupil, and a former student