COMMENT: Best interests of the children must come first

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OVERCROWDED schools have become a fact of life in many parts of the Capital.

Demand for places at the most popular is so high that space is stretched to the limit in an effort to accommodate as many children as possible at their first-choice school. This creates inevitable strains for pupils and staff as they have to improvise with the rooms they have, turning gym halls and corridors into temporary classrooms or dining areas. The immediately available alternative though – turning away more children from the most popular schools – is worse. Supporting parents in making the choice that they feel is best for their children is the right thing for the city to do.

Inevitably, though, there are limits to how many children can be accommodated in the most in-demand schools. Eating your sandwiches on benches in a gym hall or doing without a dedicated computer suite is one thing – not ideal, but ultimately manageable. There has to be limits though, schools have to be safe and pupils must have decent facilities in which to be taught.

The pressure on James Gillespie’s is not surprising, given its huge success. There is no easy answer when a school simply does not have the space to take the number of pupils that want to go there and there is no time or space to extend.

A redrawing of boundaries, as is happening at Towerbank Primary in Portobello, is one alternative approach, but that cannot reasonably happen before August, and may not be appropriate.

The one principle that must guide the authorities as they manage this difficult situation is that the best interests of the children affected must come first. It is terribly unfortunate that this problem has only been identified after pupils have already visited their “new school”. Those children and their families now face uncertainty and heartache. The stops must be pulled out to avoid a situation like this happening again.