Gordon Macdonald: Excellent opportunity for schools

Parents and children call for Wester Hailes Education Centre to be saved. Picture: Alistair Linford
Parents and children call for Wester Hailes Education Centre to be saved. Picture: Alistair Linford
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This Thursday is a day that many pupils, students, parents and others have been anxiously waiting for, since the end of last year – the Council’s education committee will meet to determine the outcome of the South West Edinburgh School Review, and which options will go out to statutory consultation.

I, along with the majority of the communities affected, have been clear that the bottom line is that the four schools – Balerno, Currie, the Wester Hailes Education Centre (WHEC), and Woodlands – should remain open and on their current sites. The Save Our Schools campaign has been very successful in making these strong views of the community heard, provoking the council to propose the three alternative options.

However, the entire review could have been so much more and may turn out to be a missed opportunity to develop educational facilities for young people in the city.

The review has been a debate about which of the schools should close and whether to reduce the WHEC to a community hub or merge it into a new south west high school. Instead, and as I have campaigned for all along, the review should have looked at options to develop and expand existing educational facilities.

As the name implies, the WHEC was intended to be more than a school – it was meant to be the educational centre for Wester Hailes. The name describes a vision that the review has simply not allowed. The WHEC has the capacity to make this a real possibility – from creating a centre of excellence for vocational activity to becoming a foundation school for apprenticeships. There are many possible ideas for the future that have not been considered.

A nearby example is at Newbattle Community High School in Dalkeith. Architecture and Design Scotland have been working in collaboration with the school in order to help make their new building become a Digital Centre of Excellence. This is exactly the type of creative thinking that should be being explored in the South West School Review.

Newbattle Community High is combining informal spaces, workshop spaces, and formal classroom spaces with modern IT equipment and facilities. The principles are about promoting creativity, partnership, and allowing for “real world” experiences.

As Edinburgh strives to become the data capital of Europe, an aspirational and achievable goal that I fully support, digital centres of excellence can play a significant part in this. Education centres, like the WHEC, can be host these opportunities for young people and illustrate these new career paths in the digital and technology sectors. The WHEC could, very realistically, be a centre of excellence for digital technology – a welcome place in the community for advice, learning and leisure, and provide informal separate workspace for the self-employed, start-ups and small businesses.

This is the positive vision we need to have for Wester Hailes.

As the committee meeting goes ahead on Thursday, my message is clear: all four schools should remain, and this type of creative thinking and educational variety needs to be on the table.

Gordon Macdonald is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Pentlands.