Last week saw pupils and staff finally say goodbye to the current Portobello High School building, a building that at eight stories high, has dominated the local skyline for over 50 years.
It has been the big local issue for over a decade now, with differing views across the community on where the new school would be located and how to best deliver a school that matches the first-class education pupils receive from the staff at Portobello.
Since I was first elected five years ago I have given my full support to the building of a new Portobello High School on Portobello Park as I believed it was the best location for the new school.
When the council turned to the Scottish Parliament with a Private Bill to ensure that the building work could go ahead, I was thrilled to be able to support it, vote for it and celebrate it’s passing with the headteacher at the time, Peigi Macarthur, and many of the parents who had spent years campaigning for it.
It was during the first debate on the issue in the Scottish Parliament in January 2014 that I remarked it had been 2596 days since the plans to build the new high school were approved by the council. That number now stands at 3608 – only a few weeks short of a full decade.
I had the pleasure of touring the new school building last month and it is simply incredible. It is a place where I believe pupils will thrive, where teachers will be able to expand their ability to provide a full and comprehensive educational experience and – due to the outstanding new sports facilities – where children will now be able to enjoy the proper amount of PE hours and be more active and healthier, something that was impossible at the old building where pupils sometimes faced taking buses to the Jack Kane and Meadowbank just to complete their reduced PE classes.
The investment in technology and interactive learning will ensure that our children gain the vital skills they need to be ready for the jobs of the future – no more chalkboard and overhead projectors, it’s all Apple TV and wireless work sharing.
But as we celebrate the opening of this fantastic new school, we as public servants across our Parliament and in our City Chambers cannot stop there. Because less than two miles from the new Portobello stands Castlebrae Community High School. A school earmarked for closure three years ago, only still open due to the persistent campaigning of the local community. Castlebrae must now be pushed to the top of the list for a 21st century school building.
A recent report from Education Scotland showed that by using the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, up to 93 per cent of school leavers from Castlebrae High School were from the most deprived homes. The exact opposite was the case when you looked at some of the more affluent areas of our city.
That is why I will be making the case for more investment in our schools and local services when it comes to setting Scotland’s budget in the coming months. So we can finally start to close the attainment gap that exists between the richest and the poorest within our society and ensure that every child in Scotland goes to a school that is designed and built to sit alongside the 21st century education our teachers are delivering.
Kezia Dugdale MSP is an MSP for the Lothian Region and leader of the Scottish Labour Party