New Edinburgh schools at capacity before even opening

A multi-million pound teaching facility will have to be built to cope with ballooning school rolls at two brand new high schools '“ before one of them is even open.

Thursday, 8th December 2016, 9:04 am
Updated Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 12:53 pm
The school takes shape at Fountainbridge. Picture: Greg Macvean

Almost £80 million has already been spent constructing cutting-edge facilities at James Gillespie’s and Boroughmuir high schools. But the secondaries are too small to cope with rising pupil numbers, figures show, and now a £7.2m teaching annexe needs to be built to house the extra students – a move even the city’s education leader admitted “comes across a bit mad”.

We revealed earlier this year that the two schools will be overcapacity by 154 pupils by 2020, despite their new buildings. And problems at the new Boroughmuir High – which doesn’t even open until August next year – are potentially even more acute, with “significant growth” forecast from 2017.

Critics blasted the revelation “absurd” and said the cost of dealing with the capacity issues in the coming years would be “massive”.

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Minister Alisdair Allan, centre, helps break ground at the site of the new Boroghmuir High School. Picture: Toby Williams

Education leader Councillor Cammy Day said he appreciated “it comes across a bit mad that we are opening a school that does not have enough space in it”, but insisted there were “unprecedented pressures” which needed to be addressed.

Cllr Melanie Main, Green education spokeswoman, said: “[This] confirms what we’ve known for months, that both James Gillespie’s and Boroughmuir High Schools are already struggling for space.

“It is especially absurd in the case of Boroughmuir as that school is still being built, yet it will be too small from day one.

“The cost of dealing with the problems of capacity is massive – over £10m extra already but £22m once the need for a new south Edinburgh primary school is added in. And there is more in the pipeline.

Minister Alisdair Allan, centre, helps break ground at the site of the new Boroghmuir High School. Picture: Toby Williams

“The Scottish Government needs to step in with more funding to make sure that all school pupils are able to get a place at their catchment school.

Councillor Jason Rust, Edinburgh’s Tory education spokesman, added: “It is quite incredible that we are in this situation with brand new buildings, yet a need for add-on parts already.

“There is a clear inference in the report that the new Boroughmuir for instance will be at capacity from opening and yet there appears to be no budgetary consideration of this. The council really needs to get a handle on this situation with more informed predictions and also we need to see attainment levels rise across the board to reduce pressure on certain schools.”

A report set to go before councillors next month identifies a £10.5m funding shortfall in the cash needed to respond to rising school rolls in the immediate future. But this does not include the cost of creating additional capacity at Stockbridge Primary School – which officials think may be required – or the need to build a new school on the Waterfront to cope with ongoing housing developments. It also excludes any costs associated with constructing a new school in south Edinburgh, which represents an extra £12.7m.

Meanwhile, a spate of house building across the Capital means seven new primary schools and a secondary school will have to be built in the coming years, alongside extensions to many existing schools.

Council documents state this will cost around £244m to deliver, and despite a number of potential funding sources – including contributions from developers and the long-awaited City Deal – officials insist there “remains a real risk” that “required infrastructure cannot be delivered” without extra cash being found.

To solve capacity issues at James Gillespie’s and Boroughmuir, officials suggest turning the Darroch facility on Gillespie Street, just off Gilmore Place, into a permanent annexe that the two schools could use for teaching.

But as this would cost £7.2m, they add “further investigative work will be carried out to identify any lower-cost alternatives to provide the necessary 

They continue: “Due to the necessity to develop and deliver a solution by August 2019 it is essential that a draft statutory consultation paper on establishing a permanent annexe for James Gillespie’s High School and Boroughmuir High School is prepared and brought to committee in March 2017.

“This paper will focus on the use of Darroch unless a lower cost acceptable option can be identified within that timeframe.”

Cllr Day said James Gillespie’s and Boroughmuir were growing in popularity, with an influx of new families in their catchment areas and fewer parents opting to go private. James Gillespie’s also takes pupils from across the Lothians as the nominated Gaelic high school.

The new schools were built to cope with projected future pupil numbers – but the rate of growth was underestimated. Cllr Day said the council would now have to work together with the Scottish Government and other partners to address the “unprecedented” pressure on schools.

He added: “Of course we would like to build a bigger school, but the resources were not there for it. We just need to be bluntly honest: we have a funding shortfall in education. If the Greens and the Tories have a solution to that, I would welcome it.”