Moving Castlebrae pupils to Portobello ‘bad idea’

Castlebrae pupils protest against closure. Picture: Neil Hanna
Castlebrae pupils protest against closure. Picture: Neil Hanna
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CASTLEBRAE pupils are in danger of “sinking in a larger pond” if they move to Portobello High, a school improvement expert has warned.

Councillors will vote on whether to close Castlebrae Community High School from July at a full council meeting on Thursday following a declining school roll and poor exam results.

Campaigners have urged them to save the Craigmillar school.

If councillors give the closure the thumbs-up, pupils would be offered a place at Portobello High, although parents could choose another school such as Holy Rood RC High, if places are available.

Dr Terry Wrigley, who edits the international journal Improving Schools and is a visiting professor at Leeds Metropolitan University, believes the Castlebrae pupils would be in danger of getting lost in the system if the school is closed and they are moved to the considerably larger Portobello High School.

Portobello High is the largest school in the Capital, with more than 1300 pupils, while Castlebrae has the smallest secondary roll in the city, with fewer than 200 pupils. Dr 
Wrigley, who lives in Edinburgh, said: “It’s been suggested that the pupils will do better if they’re in a larger school outside of their area. I just don’t think there’s any evidence to point to that because the children could simply sink in a larger pond.

“Portobello is already a very large secondary school and there’s a danger of schools of that size becoming very anonymous. There’s a particular danger for children either from Portobello or from Craigmillar with particular needs getting lost in that environment, with nobody really noticing how they’re doing.

“It’s quite wrong to make the automatic assumption that bigger schools are better. It has been suggested that children will have higher aspirations if they move into Portobello High, but the danger is they may become demoralised.”

The city council said it was committed to “comprehensive schools”, and Castlebrae was no longer a comprehensive school. A spokeswoman said: “The very low roll at Castlebrae Community High School, due to parents choosing to send their children to other schools, has created a narrow social context and restricts the delivery of the curriculum.

“Should the closure be agreed, there is very strong pupil support in both Portobello and Holy Rood, and we are confident that Castlebrae pupils will receive the personal support they need to make a smooth transition in order to grow and flourish at their new school.”

However, Kev Finlay, 43, chairman of Save the Brae, said closing Castlebrae and moving the pupils to Portobello High would be “ludicrous”.

“There’s just a wealth of reasons why it’s all wrong,” he said. “I think a lot of the pupils will become disillusioned and walk away from their education. We will probably lose a generation of fourth and fifth years whose thinking may be, ‘what’s the point in going to a different school?’

“The pupils will find it really hard going from small class sizes at Castlebrae to suddenly being chucked into the huge swimming pool of Portobello and being expected to float to the top.”