£100m schools refurb put on hold following plea to build replacement WHEC

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A £100 MILLION revamp of schools in south-west Edinburgh has been put on hold – despite claims it has the backing of more than 80 per cent of the affected communities.

A controversial proposal to create a new super-school by merging Currie High and Wester Hailes Education Centre (WHEC) was effectively abandoned after campaigns were launched in both areas against the plan.

Amanda Campbell - chair of the WHEC parent council.

Amanda Campbell - chair of the WHEC parent council.

A consultation exercise on a range of alternative plans found widespread support for option one, which would maintain the status quo by refurbishing both WHEC and Balerno High and replacing the existing Currie High.

But now the city’s education committee has voted 6:5 to delay a decision until next month after deputations of parents from two of WHEC’s feeder primaries, Clovenstone and Canal View, told yesterday’s education committee they backed option two, which would include a new high school at Curriemuirend.

Samantha Laidlaw, co-chair of Clovenstone Primary parent council, said: “Parents at Clovenstone do not accept the status quo makes the most of the educational opportunities for the children of Wester Hailes.”

She said the WHEC name came with a stigma and the preferred option of the Clovenstone parents was option two, with a new school at Curriemuirend. “We welcome the opportunity to build a brand new school where our children will not be judged on previous perceptions.”

And Ashley McNeil from the parents committee at Canal View Primary, said: “A new building in a new area with a new name and uniform can help give a sense of pride and excitement.”

WHEC parent council chair Amanda Campbell, part of a joint deputation with Currie and Woodlands, backed option one. She said the S1 roll at WHEC was up 20 per cent despite the uncertainties over the schools review.

And in response to the comments about stigma, she asked if the council had considered rebranding WHEC. “If you rebrand, improve the facilities and invest in a new building this would surely help.”

Susan Webber, Conservative councillor for Pentland Hills, said there was a groundswell of opinion for the status quo. “I would say more than 80 per cent of people in these communities are supporting option one.”

But education convener Ian Perry proposed the committee should take no decision until its next meeting on June 21.

He said the council had listened to parents’ views and made changes to the original proposal, most significantly dropping the idea of splitting Currie between Balerno High and a proposed new school.

On the recent consultation he said: “It seemed there was going to be unanimity around option one but that’s not the case now.

“I think it’s useful to take a four-week break. This will be completed, I assure you, before the holidays.”

He also said a comprehensive education required an adequate curriculum and a social mix. “If we think a social mix is important to increase attainment we need to think very hard if we go for the status quo.”

Cllr Perry added that a site still had to be identified for a new West Edinburgh high school. The council had accepted the view of parents at Hillwood and Kirkliston that the preferred site at Ratho Station was not right.

Green education spokeswoman Mary Campbell said option one to be taken forward to the next stage, a statutory consultation, and called for a focus on improving the perception of WHEC. She said: “Showing commitment to a school and promoting the great work it does helps dispel myths about a school and what its pupils are capable of.”

Tory education spokesman Callum Laidlaw also urged option one should go forward.He said a delay would increase uncertainty which had already caused a lot of stress.

“What is important is a comprehensive education, a school at the heart of its community.”

He praised the close relationship between Currie High and neighbouring Woodlands special school

He said WHEC was seeing rising rolls, increasing community pride and parents becoming more involved.

“The vast majority from the schools involved say they want the schools kept open. All the feedback says keep the status quo, go for option one, it’s the only sound decision.”

Liberal Democrat Louise Young said she had a child at one of the primary schools involved in the debate about a new school for West Edinburgh and she understood the stress involved.

But she backed delaying a decision. “We still have some conflicting local opinion and many outstanding questions. I’m willing to be in limbo for another few weeks if that means we are going to get a more informed decision.”