Training hub plan as Castlebrae is saved

Pupils protesting against the closure of Castlebrae. Picture: Neil Hanna

Pupils protesting against the closure of Castlebrae. Picture: Neil Hanna

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New headteachers are expected to be sent in to take over the running of Castlebrae High after it was saved from closure at the 11th hour.

The Craigmillar site may operate as a vocational training hub under the direction of senior staff from neighbouring Portobello High.

Councillors performed a dramatic U-turn to reject their officials’ recommendation that the school shut in July following poor exam results and a falling school roll.

Officials are now exploring plans that would see it become an annex of Portobello High, where pupils at Castlebrae were to be offered places after the proposed closure.

It is understood city chiefs are considering putting the running of any annex in the hands of headteachers at Portobello in a cost-cutting move.

Director of children and families Gillian Tee has been given three months to draw up plans for Castlebrae’s future before a consultation exercise begins.

A vocational training hub could include community facilities and would remain open until a new school was delivered in Craigmillar by 2020.

Campaign group Save the Brae, which has fought for the last six months to keep the school open, said it did not support the annex plan, with chairman Kev Finlay raising concerns that it would become an easier 
target for closure at a later date. A majority of councillors rejected officials’ recommendation to shut the school in a surprise move after almost three hours of deliberation yesterday.

City leader Andrew Burns prompted jubilant scenes from Save the Brae members when he told the meeting: “I want to make it loud and clear – Castlebrae Community High School will stay open.”

Six deputations were heard from Castlebrae supporters, including pupils and school improvement expert Dr Terry Wrigley.

Pupil Nicole Moffat, 14, told councillors: “The proposed closure has had a terrible effect on the pupils. We wonder if it’s because we stay in Craigmillar and you don’t want us to succeed. The constant threat of closure has made us work harder to prove we’re not the failing school you think we are.”

But Lib Dem group leader Paul Edie said sweeping aside the views of education officers, who recommended closure, was a “failure of leadership and nerve”.

“I have concerns about the logistics of operating Castlebrae as an annex,” he added. “This hasn’t been run past any Portobello parents and I’m not sure they will be happy with this particular outcome. I think there will be a lot of outcry.”

Officers will submit a report on the potential establishment of a commission with external experts to look at options for the use of the proposed annexe.

Education leader Councillor Paul Godzik said plans for a new Portobello High School would not be affected.

He said: “We have gone through a thorough consultation process and we have listened and responded to the community. We are determined to work in co-operation with the community to deliver a better education for pupils, and will now look at further options to do this.”

In a joint statement, Labour MP Sheila Gilmore and MSP Kezia Dugdale said: “While a fully functioning secondary school is the best foundation for establishing a new school, campaigners will worry this is a short-term reprieve.”

City orders horsemeat probe

AN investigation into the supply chain of food across Edinburgh has been ordered in light of the horsemeat scandal.

City chiefs agreed to examine the standard of food sourcing for all council premises after thousands of ready meals were taken off supermarket shelves around the UK for containing varying levels of horsemeat.

The decision was taken at a full council meeting following a motion proposed by Green councillor Chas Booth.

He said: “Ensuring that we all have trust in the food we eat is essential. But the recent horsemeat scandal has shaken that trust for many.

“I hope the limited inquiry will help make the case for our excellent Scottish food and drink while restoring trust in the food we eat.”

Park private bill gets green light

COUNCIL chiefs have moved a step closer to building a new Portobello High School after councillors unanimously agreed to pursue a Private Bill.

If successful, the Bill would remove a legal barrier to using Portobello Park as the site of a new building to replace the city’s largest high school, after opponents of the plan – Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG) – argued it was inalienable common good land.

Should the Bill be successful, allowing the school to be built on Portobello Park, the city council plans to create a new £1 million park on the school’s current site. New playing fields are also to be made available at the school for free community use.

Green councillor Gavin Corbett, a member of the education committee, said: “Our every instinct is to protect and enhance green space, but we also strongly support good quality, local schools.”