I was shocked and surprised by the council proposal to close two secondary schools in my constituency of Edinburgh Pentlands.
The two schools involved, Currie Community High School and Wester Hailes Education Centre, are cornerstones of their communities. The staff strive to get the best out of the young people they teach and the schools provide leisure facilities and adult education classes for their local area.
The council justification for the closures are that there will be an extra “125 primary and 77 secondary pupils in south west Edinburgh”, that both schools are in poor condition and that the WHEC has a small catchment area.
The three secondary schools impacted by this review currently have enough spare capacity to accommodate any increase in pupil numbers with Balerno operating at 82 per cent, Currie 77 per cent and the WHEC at 36 per cent based on the 2016 school rolls.
There is no doubt that all three schools are in need of investment, although in recent years Balerno has had new windows, Currie solar panels installed by Edinburgh Community Solar and the WHEC has had major roof repairs, new windows and cladding. The consulting structural and civil engineers Will Rudd Davidson were appointed in 2015 by the council to “undertake structural assessments of all high school schools on the basis of a 15-30-year lifespan. Whilst defects were identified these were deemed generally cosmetic and non-structural and not uncommon in buildings of their age or construction.”
If the council does want to replace the school estate at Currie and the WHEC with modern state-of-the-art facilities, then why not use the same model used at Forrester High and what they already intend to use at Queensferry High – i.e. build the replacement secondaries on the grounds of the school and then demolish the existing buildings. There is scope to do this on both sites and it would allow the two schools to remain at the heart of their communities.
There is also the viability of Woodlands school that shares the campus and some of the facilities at Currie with the high school. What effect will any housing development on the existing school site have on the pupils of Woodlands?
The proposed site for the new South West High School at Curriemuirend Park currently earmarked for housing in the local development plan. The topography of the site is such that it would cost any developer a substantial amount of money to make it suitable for a housing development. The council proposal I assume would require a change of use and if successful would result in a further loss of amenity to the residents of Wester Hailes.
The site at Curriemuirend would also result in increased traffic on the Lanark Road, already at capacity at peak times, with queues backing up through Juniper Green. It would seem at odds with the council policy to encourage people to take up active travel to then make a proposal that would result in pupils either depending on public transport or travelling by car to school.
I will be campaigning for the two schools to remain on their existing campus and I would urge parents and all members of the community to take part in the consultation. Only by both communities supporting each other to fight these proposals can we protect our local schools which are the heart of any community.
Gordon Macdonald is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Pentlands