Edinburgh City Council to build 63 new classrooms

The city council is expanding ten primaries in a bid to relieve overcrowding. Picture: Ian Georgeson
The city council is expanding ten primaries in a bid to relieve overcrowding. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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TEN city primaries are to be expanded amid relentlessly rising pressure on overcrowded schools.

Sixty three classrooms and school halls – roughly equivalent of three entire new primaries – will be built as part of a £14.9 million investment by 2019.

The cash injection is aimed at dealing with levels of overcrowding which have seen children at some schools forced to use dining rooms as gym halls in some of the city’s most popular schools.

The work will be undertaken at Balgreen, Broughton, ­Craigour, Flora Stevenson, Fox Covert, Liberton, St David’s, St Mary’s (Leith), Stockbridge and Victoria primary schools.

A further seven under-pressure schools have been pencilled in for extensions – meaning a total of 20 primaries will be upgraded through the council’s Rising Rolls emergency investment programme.

City leaders insisted the city’s 23 school closures since 2000 had not caused the current problems at primaries “to any significant” extent as most of the accommodation lost had been at schools which were undersubscribed.

They added that these had netted the city a saving of around £32.5m, with most closures taking place outside of catchment areas now ­struggling to meet demand for primary school places.

Education bosses are not naming the seven schools to benefit in the next phase of Rising Rolls. Possible candidates for expansion include Juniper Green, Bonaly, Lorne, Buckstone, Clermiston, Roseburn and Cramond primaries, which are all operating close to capacity, according to recent data.

Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “We have to make sure that we have a school estate that’s efficient and serves the needs of pupils.

“The funding that we are putting in will deal with the population pressures and make sure that every pupil has a place in their own catchment school.

“Providing that new accommodation is not an exact science – we have to track it as best we can. It has still to be determined where some of that will be and we are in dialogue with parents on this.”

Education bosses said the new investment would enable the creation of 25 classroom and six “general purpose” spaces for activities including gym, music and assembly, in areas affected by recent school closures. In the rest of the city, 27 new classrooms and five general purpose spaces will be ­provided.

Education leaders said pressure on space in primary schools had been driven mainly by demand from within ­individual catchment areas.

But with 26 per cent of pupils at non-denominational 
primaries set to come from outside catchment, officials admitted popular schools were having to deal with demand from across the Capital.

New detail on how the squeeze on classrooms will be reduced comes after the Evening News last month revealed that the scope of the council’s Rising Rolls programme would quadruple to meet a spike in demand for places at the Capital’s most popular primaries.

City leaders said most of the more radical measures contained in earlier draft proposals – such as transferring some upper school classes to secondaries – had been dropped.

But it has emerged education leaders will press ahead with plans to build new accommodation at Broughton Primary, with neighbouring premises which previously housed Broughton High sold to a private developer and converted into flats.

Anxious parents said the proposal – still subject to review pending the outcome of the developer’s planning application – could mean “valuable playground space” is filled with “undesirable ‘modular’ buildings”, even though a “purpose-built” solution exists on the ­primary school’s doorstep.

And Tynecastle FC could lose the base it occupies in a temporary teaching unit at Balgreen Primary – after a recommendation the space be ­reclaimed for class purposes was approved.

Education chiefs insisted that schools and parents were “in the main” happy with the ­council’s investment plans.

“What we have tried to do throughout this process is have a good level of consultation with parents and head­teachers,” said Cllr Godzik. “We are trying to continue that dialogue so that parents have their say.

“As regards Tynecastle and the after school clubs, no-one wants to make anyone homeless, but there has to be a recognition there are pressures.”

However, the proposals were criticised by parent leaders and opposition councillors.

Lindsay Law, parent representative on the city’s education committee, said: “Edinburgh City Council seem to be presenting a patchwork of cobbled- together strategies to deal with rising rolls. While these might meet the extra demand in some schools, they don’t consider the full effect on the broader ­educational experience of our children.

“Pupils at affected schools are very upset by the idea of losing their cherished playground spaces to extra classrooms.”

Councillor Melanie Main, education spokeswoman for the Capital’s Green group, said: “Parents will rightly feel squeezed between a rock and a hard place – rushed into ­making huge decisions about building extra classroom space, often at the cost of precious playground space. The chickens of closing ­seven schools in the last five years are coming home to roost.”

Top of the class

SCHOOL-leavers in the Capital are more successful than ever, according to figures published by the Scottish Government.

The percentage of students achieving and sustaining a positive destination after leaving school is now at 89.8 per cent – up 3.3 per cent on last year. Positive destinations are defined as places in higher education, further education, employment, paid apprenticeship, or work-focused training.

More than one in five of Edinburgh’s school-leavers found jobs, while just under 40 per cent found and sustained places at institutions of higher education. Meanwhile, a quarter of pupils chose to go into further education.

Queensferry High in South Queensferry has a near-100 per cent success rate, with every school leaver but one placed in a positive destination.

Councillor Frank Ross, the city’s economy leader, said: “Ensuring that Edinburgh’s young people have opportunities is vital for the economic success of our city.”

Parents concerned over ‘short-term’ approach

NICOLA Clark-Tonberg, of Broughton Primary parent council, said there was concern among parents that the council was taking a “short-term” approach to the issue of rising rolls, and urged the authority to involve parents in producing a practical long-term solution.

“We know there are huge pressures on the school – school rolls are growing and we need to accommodate the children coming in,” she said.

“But the council has been very short-sighted in looking at the issue of rising rolls in the past, with the closure of some local schools, and we do not want them to take a short-term approach to this.

“We would rather have something temporary which would give us time to consider the best long-term solution and genuinely involve parents in what the alternatives might be. “As parents, we know the school best and we really do want to be listened to rather than accepting the one-size-fits-all solution of modular classrooms, which takes essential playground space.

“Why give a larger number of children less room if there are other options, which we think there are?

“The council is starting to listen, but only because we’ve started making a noise. Our concern is that they have already decided what they are going to do.

“We have ideas that we want them to take seriously. There’s the empty building next door. Selling it for flats when it’s within the playground of the school makes no sense when we need more space.

“We need the council to talk to us to find a solution in the best long-term interests of the school and children, not just something ready for August 2014.”