John McLellan: Is Currie-WHEC school merger social engineering?

Parents and children protest against the plan to merge the WHEC with Currie High School. Picture: Alistair Linford
Parents and children protest against the plan to merge the WHEC with Currie High School. Picture: Alistair Linford
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Here we go again. Consultation lessons from the Broughton High music school debacle being thoroughly unlearned, the city council’s coalition administration has breenged into another PR disaster with its proposal to close Currie High School.

The plan to merge the Wester Hailes Education Centre (WHEC) with Currie High and stick the new school on one of two sites next to the city bypass is the result of an “informal consultation” – if a decision taken by the education committee in August has been followed.

Here is what the minutes of that meeting say: “Informal consultation be progressed with local elected members, school communities and other key stakeholders . . . to inform a detailed statutory consultation paper . . . for consideration in December 2017.”

READ MORE: Opposition grows to Wester Hailes-Currie high school merger

Education convener Ian Perry told the Evening News this week that: “It has to be stressed this is an informal consultation.”

So what’s going on? If there has been informal consultation, as councillors instructed, then the instant fury suggests local opinion has so far been ignored. If no opinion has been sought, then councillor’s orders have been ignored.

Like the abandoned plan to shut the City of Edinburgh Music School at Broughton High, this is not simply a chance to see what people think but the first pass at the council’s intentions, because it’s obvious that if there was only a muted reaction then the plans would go ahead.

Nor can it be an attempt to explore all the options, because only two have been presented and already my Conservative colleague and Currie councillor Sue Webber, an ex-pupil of the high school, has identified an alternative site in the heart of Currie.

READ MORE: Euan McGrory: Unfair to call Currie High School protest parents snobs

Pentlands SNP MSP Gordon MacDonald has proposed a rebuild on the current Currie High site. MacDonald said he was “shocked” by the plan, while former SNP/Labour councillor Steve Cardownie wrote in the Evening News: “Some [new councillors] 
may be forgiven for asking the coalition leadership whether this first year’s ‘baptism of fire’ is really necessary?”

In other words, senior Nationalists are asking what on earth (to put it mildly) are their people playing at?

The first year of any administration is usually when the dirty work gets done in the hope that the electorate will forget all about it by the time of the next election, but this 
strategy doesn’t work with school closures.

Given how long it will take to plan and build, the doors to the new West Edinburgh school could be opening as voters go to the polls in 2021 or 2022.

The heart of the problem is the 750-capacity WHEC has just 270 pupils and only 110 more are expected in the next ten years because the catchment area is less popular with families.

Currie High, on the other hand, has 700 pupils and is set to go beyond its 900 capacity by 2026.

Perhaps the clue is in Perry’s opening comment on the official announcement, in which he spoke not about schools, but housing.

“With Edinburgh being such a thriving and successful city, more and more people are coming to live here so we need to build the extra homes for them,” he said.

So maybe what’s happening is actually social engineering, where a new school is used as a magnet to attract builders of desirable family homes to an area they might not otherwise consider. Just don’t tell anyone in Currie.