At A time of budgetary pressure there is a need for local authorities such as Edinburgh City Council to be imaginative in their approach to service delivery.
However, a potentially bold move to increase “cluster-based teaching” should not be taken lightly. Clearly if the Scottish Government demand for more housing is to be met then it is vital that there is adequate infrastructure in place and that includes schools. Yet the city council does not have a glorious track record in terms of future roll projections given the fact schools were not so long ago closed under the previous administration despite current need for extensions to meet local demand. Simply “pupil trafficking” will not obviate this problem.
The concept of “hub schools” using their kitchens to provide school meals to satellite schools in Edinburgh seems to work. However, pupils are not as easily transferred as the meals they consume. To imagine this concept could be easily applied to other areas, like the delivery of education, without thorough research is too simplistic.
The stretching of resources and moving of responsibilities from one school to another could be seen as passing the buck. Could we also see an increase to the length of the school day to accommodate for travel time between schools?
There are already some timetable issues with pupils going swimming or using facilities at other establishments with a knock-on effect on the school day.
The previous administration also controversially looked to save money by increasing the distance a pupil had to live away from school to get free bus travel. At a time when we must be the most aware of our carbon impact on the environment, one would expect policy to move towards less reliance on transport – for example, encouraging children to walk to school. The financial and environmental aspects of the cluster approach would seem to run contrary to this.
Measuring the outcome of pupil and school performance would require clarity to avoid distorting results. School life is also driven by social factors, and while a gain from this style of education may be that it breaks down the barriers between different schools, it could diminish the ethos of a successful school community, with a potential impact on absenteeism. Staffing, resources, weather contingencies and safety risks are all areas that would need to be properly addressed if progressing this method of education delivery.
Partnerships can work on a local basis between council and independent schools – for example, with sharing of resources and knowledge which is mutually beneficial for both sectors. However, for a city-wide cluster approach to be advanced, serious consideration prior to any implementation would need to be taken. The council needs to be studious in adopting a strategic long-term solution to the critical issue of rising rolls and school capacity. For the sake of future generations, education delivery can no longer be solved with a short-term fix.
Jason Rust is Conservative councillor for the Colinton/Fairmilehead ward