Edinburgh considers plans for 1600 pupil ‘mega school’

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EDUCATION bosses are considering plans for a 1,600-capacity “super-school” as one of three new “alternative options” for the controversial proposed merger of two secondary schools in the south west of the city.

The local authority put forward proposals to amalgamate Currie High and Wester Hailes Education Centre (WHEC) in November last year, but the scheme was met with furious backlash from parents at both schools who accused the council of “wrenching the community apart”.

Plans tabled in November suggested creating a new “south west Edinburgh high school”, with capacity for 1,200 pupils. The intake would realign the likes of Juniper Green, Nether Currie, Canal View and Clovenstone primaries with the new school, but a second new high, “west Edinburgh high school”, would be built on a site at either Ratho Station or the International Business 
Gateway – with capacity for 1,400 students.

However, the proposals proved unpopular as over 3,000 people signed two different petitions against the merger, forcing the council to explore alternative proposals.

And now the authority has brought forward three other options for the project, which are set to be decided upon before the meeting of the education committee in May.

One proposal listed in a council briefing document suggests closing WHEC and expanding Currie High on a new site to take in 1,600 students, making it the largest secondary in the Capital in a project expected to cost around £140m.

That plan, tentatively titled “alternative option three” includes repurposing the former WHEC building as a community hub and expanding the capacity of Balerno High School to 1,000 pupils. The new West Edinburgh High School would then absorb pupils from Kirkliston, Hillwood and a new Maybury primary school, with space for 1,200 students.

But two other proposals have also been tabled.

Alternative option one, estimated at around £155m, proposes expanding both Balerno and Currie on their current sites with room for 1,000 students.

In that scheme, The new West Edinburgh High School would also take in pupils from Kirkliston, Hillwood and a new Maybury primary school, with space for 1,200 students. It would also mean WHEC and the nearby Forrester High School remain open, with their respective catchment areas unchanged.

Green education spokeswoman, councillor Mary Campbell backed the plans, adding: “This option in particular recognises the real passion which communities have for their local schools, which came out loud and clear in the consultation events I attended.

“It would see Balerno, Currie and Wester Hailes all retaining distinctive local schools while still allowing for refurbishment and new building to cope with rising populations.”

She continued: “There is a lot of work still to do and, of course, what is happening in the west and south west of the city is only part of a bigger picture which includes the need to invest in new schools in Trinity, Craigmillar and Liberton.

“There are important lessons about how to do that which the council needs to take on board as we move forward.”

Conservative education spokesman, cllr Callum Laidlaw agreed, also backing option one.

He said: “I think it’s great both the education convener and the officers have listened to the feedback from the local communities in Balerno, Currie and Wester Hailes and put forward alternative proposals that would keep those high schools at the heart of those communities.”

“Alternative option one seems to be the most attractive choice, allowing all three areas to retain their schools and ensuring communities are not split by changes to catchment areas.”

A final option would see WHEC feeders Clovenstone, Canal View and Sighthill going into a new South West Edinburgh School, along with pupils from Juniper Green Primary.

The new school would have capacity for 900 pupils, while Balerno and Currie would be expanded to 900 and 800-pupil capacities respectively.

WHEC campaigner Aaron Aitken, 23, said he “disagreed with the proposals as they stand”, but acknowledged the plans represented “progress” in the discussions.

He added: “Seeing multiple alternative proposals means the council are starting to listen.”

“We still have a long way to go and I think the plans still fail to take into account the impact on education and the impact on communities. The council should be looking to nurture and have an asset like WHEC as part of its school system.”

Vice education convener, councillor Alison Dickie said: “Although I totally believe education is holistic and is nothing to do with the actual building, designing a building, having this opportunity to plan for the future and be more radical than other schools out there. I think that is a really positive opportunity no matter which option eventually comes out.”

A special meeting of the council’s education committee next Thursday will hear feedback from the public consultation.