Edinburgh's Sciennes Primary School: Playground so small pupils are banned from playing traditional game

Move to close Edinburgh road permanently to give more space to play

The playground at an Edinburgh primary school is so tight for space that children have been banned from playing a traditional running game. Sciennes Primary is one of the largest in Scotland with 665 pupils in 22 classes and a large area of its outdoor space has been taken up with additional classrooms.

The school’s parent council and the four councillors representing Southside/Newington are pressing for urgent action to make more space available. One idea is to take over the road outside and repurpose that to expand the playground. But they have been told there is no money available for such a move and it could face a legal challenge.

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School bosses denied claims that youngsters had been told not to run about in the playground because of the “high risk of collision”. But they admitted a traditional game at the school, known as “sheddie” – in which P7 pupils would run en masse from a bicycle shed at one end of the playground to a bicycle shed at the other –was no longer allowed.

Sciennes Primary School in Sciennes Road, Edinburgh (Google Streetview)

"The problem is there are now two temporary classrooms they would have to go round and also at some play breaks they share the playground with P3s and P4s, so you have much smaller children around,” an education source said.

Before Covid, the stretch of Sciennes Road outside the school was declared a “school street” under a scheme which closes roads to through traffic at drop-off and pick-up times. But Green councillor Steve Burgess said drivers just ignored the restrictions and police had to be called regularly.

During the pandemic, the council closed the road to all motor traffic on a temporary basis, which allowed the school to use the roadspace as an informal play space. And now the hope is that the closure can be made permanent.

‘They are not well-served by the playground they have’

But Cllr Burgess said: “The council cannot completely close the road, including to pedestrians and cyclists, unless it carries out a stopping up order.” In a report to the council’s transport and environment committee, officials said: “Independent legal advice was commissioned, which concluded that any attempt to prohibit the use of this section of Sciennes Road to cyclists and pedestrians under current roads or planning legislation would carry a significant risk of legal challenge.”

The report also said the size of a school playground was regarded as a “suitability issue” on whether a school was fit for purpose to deliver the curriculum. It continued: “There is no funding available to address suitability issues which are considered a lower priority. However, a suitability survey will be carried out over the next year, so that a list of suitability issues across the school estate can be formed and prioritised should funding become available in the future.”

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Cllr Burgess said within the last few days councillors had been advised it may not be possible to continue the current temporary closure of the road beyond February 2023 and there was therefore the prospect of returning to “an unsafe school street scheme” from that date until a permanent closure order was completed, which he said could be a year or 18 months from now.

Transport convener Scott Arthur said he had been assured officers were doing all they could to ensure the current arrangements continued. He added: “This is a fantastic school community – the kids, parents and teachers – but they are not well-served by the playground they have, so this is about treating them fairly.”