Gina Davidson: Vandal issue is tough to crack

File picture: Steven Scott Taylor

File picture: Steven Scott Taylor

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THE smashed windows, the gouge marks on wooden doors, the roofs missing essential metal, the graffiti . . . it’s all too familiar a sight at schools in Edinburgh.

Vandalism cost the council more than £80,000 of its schools repairs budget, according to new figures – £80,000 which could have been spent much more productively.

A number of those incidents appear to have occurred at schools and other centres in Wester Hailes and Sighthill, areas of Edinburgh which have been transformed over the last 30 years through the sheer hard work of residents as well as a lot of investment and a will at all levels of government to tackle social exclusion.

But there are still problems with poverty, and given that many families continue to feel the after-effects of the recession as well as cuts to benefits, it’s hardly surprising that in an area which has long been deemed deprived, further reducing already stretched financial circumstances might lead to an increase in petty crime.

Not that vandalism is petty when it comes to the cost, but in the minds and eyes of those prepared to chuck stones at a school it’s just a bit of a laugh. Take the metal to make a bit of money, where’s the harm?

While the incredibly hard-working members of the community council for the area will be tearing their hair out at the vandalism, those responsible will care little – for what else do they have to do? How else can they get a little extra in their pockets?

A little cod psychology on my part perhaps, and vandals strike at schools across the city, not just “areas of deprivation”, but it was Aristotle who declared poverty “the parent of crime”.

Research by bodies such as the Child Poverty Action Group has also shown that in deprived areas, vandalism is a major issue, especially when it comes to play areas which hold a magnetic attraction for young people looking for somewhere to hang out. Empty schools similarly seem to offer the same appeal.

Other studies have also shown that people living in deprived areas are more likely to dislike their neighbourhood because of young people hanging about and vandalism than those in more affluent areas.

Without a doubt kids and teenagers, perhaps with little focus of further education or career (although

Edinburgh’s youth unemployment statistics have fallen dramatically in the last few years) will find work for their idle hands to do. And sadly it generally ends in vandalism or violence. Is poverty perhaps then also the thief of creativity and imagination?

One suggestion to combat vandalism is more security, but that is expensive and would likely further alienate the young folk who are already so alienated from their communities they destroy the buildings.

There was a time when the cry would go up that there’s nowhere for these young people to go – nowhere for them to get rid of their excess energies. But is that still the case? It would seem despite decades of trying to change that, the answer is yes.

While there are leisure centres in nearly every part of Edinburgh, community centres, libraries, arts centres

. . . all are operating reduced hours and classes because of cuts to budgets and staffing while others put up their prices. A game of five-a-side at an Edinburgh Leisure centre costs £60 an hour.

Of course repairing vandalism will have an impact on the very same – the more money spent on that the less there is for social inclusion.

One thing is for sure: social exclusion is still with us. Perhaps it’s time for another Lord Provost’s

Commission?

Testing times are not the solution

IT’S been proved time and again that when testing is introduced in schools then children are taught to pass, rather than encouraged to explore and expand their minds.

But yet the Scottish Government is to introduce a national standardised test for kids at primary one (!), four and seven to close the “attainment gap” between children from deprived and affluent areas.

The fact is that the government knows which schools and their pupils are facing hardships in terms of deprivation and the impact it has on their education – there is no shortage of research. Resources need to be targeted specifically at them rather than this blanket testing approach which will do little except reiterate what’s already known.

More teachers are needed. Class sizes need reduced. Probationary teachers need secure jobs on graduation. Supply lists need to be re-established. You don’t need to pass a test to realise that.

Fireworks sale ban is bang on

WELL done to Midlothian Council for taking the sensible step of banning the sale of fireworks to the public. Not only are they ridiculously dangerous – and are sadly misused by some – but fireworks cause all sorts of misery to family pets in the run-up to November 5 and for weeks afterwards.

Licensed fireworks events will still take place and people can go and watch them safely for a limited time. Now it just needs the rest of the Lothian councils to do the same thing – and for the Scottish Government to agree the new by-law.

MPs detached from reality

IT was interesting to read Ian Swanson’s interviews with Lothian MPs – mostly new SNP ones – and how they are settling into their roles seven months on from the general election. Edinburgh West MP Michelle Thomson’s comments were especially fascinating; that Westminster is “detached” from the lives of her constituents.

Of course, Thomson is now an independent MP “detached” from her original party because of her innovative process of purchasing ordinary people’s properties – detached or otherwise.

A bit of all White

WE finally managed to catch Snow White at the King’s Theatre this week. A brilliant show with great performances, it had my kids terrified and laughing fit to burst in equal measure. What more could you ask from a panto?