Fort school to reopen just two years after closure as pupil numbers soar

A PRIMARY school closed just two years ago may be opened up again to cope with soaring pupil numbers.

Education chiefs are considering the radical move of using part of the former Fort Primary School in Leith to relieve the pressure on other schools in the area.

Today, campaigners who fought against the closure in 2010 welcomed the move and said the decision to axe the school in the first place had been “short-sighted”.

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Primary school rolls have already seen a five per cent increase this year and are expected to grow by a further 19 per cent by 2019 as immigration and birth rates continue to climb.

The city’s education leader, Paul Godzik, said that reopening the whole school was not an option, but using part of it as a junior school was being considered.

Councillor Godzik said: “One option that has been floated is using it as an early years facility for primary one, two and three pupils, which officers are considering.

“This is one of a number of options which will be discussed fully with headteachers, parents and elected members before a decision on the preferred approach is taken.

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“New extensions on other primary schools is a proposal that’s been put forward as well.”

The Evening News has already told how the city council is investigating extensions or “modules” for five primary schools – Balgreen, Granton, Trinity, Victoria and Wardie – where immediate action is required to ensure places are provided for catchment pupils next August.

Following the closure of Fort Primary, the majority of the school’s 80 pupils were transferred to Trinity, and it is thought likely that only pupils from there would move back to a reopened Fort.

The possibility of using the Fort again was raised by a special working group set up by the council to work out how to deal with the increasing pupil numbers.

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It will be discussed again today by the group – the Children and Families Estate Management Forum, which is made up of councillors, council officers and parents, as well as teacher and religious representatives – as one of several options to deal with the rising number of primary pupils.

A report will be prepared with the forum’s findings, which will be discussed and voted on at the Education, Children and Families Committee next month.

The previous administration went ahead with the closure of Fort – one of seven primaries closed in the last five years – despite warnings from parents, councillors and politicians about rising birth rates.

MP Mark Lazarowicz wrote to director of education Gillian Tee and local 
councillors in 2009 warning that the proposed closure did not take into account future population trends in the area.

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Today, he said: “The fact is that although I don’t like to say I told you so, many of us did tell the previous administration when they were going ahead with the closure of not just Fort Primary, but Royston too, that it was extremely short-sighted and all the indications were that the school-age population for north Edinburgh would increase.

“This shows very bad planning by the then administration of the council.”

The Greens’ education spokeswoman, Cllr Melanie Main, said she welcomed looking into using the Fort, but added: “It beggars belief that we have found ourselves in this position so soon after three nearby primary schools were closed in the last five years – Fort Primary, Royston and 

“Greens fought hard against these closures and our warnings about rising school rolls went unheeded.

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“Communities that have had the stress of school closures hanging over their heads now have the worry that there are not enough new school places for August 2013.”

The former Fort Primary is currently occupied by the Fort Early Years Centre and S2-S5 pupils from Kaimes Special School, who were temporarily decanted following storm damage to their building at the start of the year.

It is understood there are around seven empty classrooms available for use.

The former council administration said that Fort Primary was closed because of a falling school roll and poor educational attainment. Despite having space for 279 pupils, its school roll prior to closing was less than a third of its capacity.

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The school roll failed to rise above 110 pupils between 2003 and 2008, with levels of educational attainment in reading and maths 10 per cent below the city average and attainment in writing 20 per cent below the average in 2009.

New Scottish Government legislation which came into force last year means P1 classes are limited to 25 pupils, but one way to get round the law is to have a class of up to 50 children with two teachers, keeping the pupil-teacher ratio at legal limits.

Trinity Primary was warned by education director Gillian Tee last year that it faced having one class of 25 and another of 41 to accommodate the 66 pupils starting primary one in 2011.

City ‘attractive to young families’

A COMBINATION of rising birth rates, migration and economic factors mean that the city’s primary school population is expected to increase by 19 per cent by 2019. As a result, catchment numbers at several schools are set to exceed capacity in the next few years.

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Robert Raeside, professor of applied statistics at Napier University, said: “I think the increase is more to do with internal migration because of the attractiveness of Edinburgh. There’s been migration of younger people for jobs and they’re the ones having families.

“People are moving particularly from more rural parts of Scotland.

“I think what’s maybe been underestimated is the continued attractiveness of Edinburgh and I think that will be down a lot to the effect of the current economic climate. Edinburgh has held up a bit better than other areas.”

In 2008-9, almost 11,000 people moved from other parts of Scotland.

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Prof Raeside added: “I think a lot of the people coming in will have young families and the people moving out of Edinburgh probably don’t have such young families.”

Raymond Simpson, a teacher representative on the council’s education, children and families committee, said that the regeneration of the Leith Docks/Western Harbour had also contributed to the rise in the number of pupils at Victoria Primary in recent years.

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