Edinburgh's James Gillespie's High School plans S6 pupils get 40 per cent remote learning next year due to lack of classroom space

Sixth-year pupils at one of Edinburgh's top-performing high schools are to have 40 per cent of their week as remote learning next year because there are not enough classrooms for them.

Wednesday, 10th February 2021, 12:30 pm
James Gillespie's High was full before it opened
James Gillespie's High was full before it opened

Parents at James Gillespie's High School have been told delays in the refurbishment of the Darroch building which was intended to provide additional accommodation from August 2021 mean there is just not enough space for all the school's pupils.

Instead it is proposed those studying for Advanced Highers will have three-fifths of their scheduled teaching hours in the classroom, and the remaining two-fifths will be carried out by some other means, but "with a particular focus on remote teaching delivered by Flexible Digital Learning”.

The plans, which were set out to parents at a meeting, will particularly affect current S5 pupils as they move into S6.

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But the parent council has voiced serious concerns about the effect the arrangements will have on pupils, especially coming immediately after the disruption and loss of teaching during the Covid pandemic.

In a letter to headteacher Donald Macdonald, they questioned why temporary units or alternative accommodation in the area could not be provided.

And they said: "The council system for managing construction projects for school accommodation does not seem to provide adequately for the possibility of delays, which are common in construction contracts. This inevitably leads to situations where accommodation is not available at the correct time, which then has serious consequences where rising rolls are an issue, as here."

The current James Gillespie's building was opened in 2016, but pupil projections during the construction showed it would already be over capacity by the time it opened.

The letter noted a claim that one advantage of remote learning was it would prepare young people for more independent learning at university or within a work context. But the parent council added: "S6 is not simply a preparatory year for a life after school, but a core part of their educational and social development. This is all the more important given the disruptions of the last year where pupils have spent lengthy periods away from the school."

And it called for a digital hub and common room to be provided as "an anchor" for pupils for studying and socialising.

Edinburgh Southern Labour MSP Daniel Johnson said he was “extremely concerned” by the proposals and urged a rethink.

He said: “Teachers and schools have done a tremendous job providing remote learning during lock down. But it is not a substitute for face-to-face learning and proposals to make this the ‘new normal’ for James Gillespie’s is not acceptable on any level.“After months of disruption, Gillespie’s students shouldn’t have to put up with more of it. With the vaccine rolled out, we should be looking toward the new school year to make up for inevitable gaps created by the pandemic.“I would urge the council to reconsider these plans urgently. I would question whether they would meet with approval from Education Scotland or the legal obligation of the council to provide education to school age children."

A council spokesman said: “Last week’s meeting on capacity proposals for the school in 2021/22 was held as a result of the ongoing pandemic which has delayed our plans for the Darroch building. We’ve treated the completion of the Darroch project as a priority and a contractor has been recently appointed meaning the work is estimated to be finished in spring next year. We therefore needed to identify temporary solutions for one year and considered a number of options.

“We will continue our engagement with the school and parents as more details for our temporary contingency plans are developed. These are unprecedented times for learning and teaching but we’re committed to providing the best possible solutions for our young people.”

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