Steve Cardownie: Edinburgh’s school closure plans will unite opponents

Parents and children protest outside Currie Community High School (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
Parents and children protest outside Currie Community High School (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
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The proposed school rationalisation across the west and south west of Edinburgh by the SNP/Labour coalition will attract a great deal of determined opposition by local groups comprising of parents. pupils, community groups and local politicians to name but a few.

The plans are ambitious to say the least and history tells us that the greater the proposals are, the greater the opposition they generate.

When the Liberal Democrat/SNP coalition of 2007 sought to implement an extensive school closure/rationalisation programme it met with united opposition on such a scale that the SNP group decided that it was no longer tenable to proceed and withdrew from the process, which was then terminated. The plans at that time were so grand that they had the effect of uniting opposition throughout the city which made for such a highly organised campaign that the prorposed consultation exercise would not have been productive and was therefore abandoned.

READ MORE: School merger proposed under plans to tackle rising number of Edinburgh pupils

While the current council administration may argue they had little option but to spell out their plans for the whole area, it will probably produce the same kind of “united front” that we saw materialise ten years ago. There are already at least three petitions on the go with more planned, along with several other initiatives designed to exert such pressure on councillors that the plans will be abandoned or at the very least amended.

There have already been calls for a major catchment review to be carried out, as all the high schools are operating under capacity, one of which by a considerable number and this needs to be addressed. The loss of amenities to the local communities affected is also causing great concern, with the potential loss of all-weather football pitches, swimming provision, night-classes and other activities all under potential threat. Communties like those in Wester Hailes, Currie and Balerno are worried that the heart of their local area will be ripped out.

READ MORE: Nearly 1,000 people sign petition to save Currie Community High School

All of this produces a potent mix of ingredients that opponents can use to their advantage.

Edinburgh Pentlands MSP Gordon MacDonald told me at the weekend he was vehemently opposed to the proposals and that he would mount a vigorous campaign to force a rethink. Facebook pages are filling up not only with opposition to the school proposals, but also to the subsequent plans for the sale of sites for housing and the potential for increased traffic congestion.

We have recently witnessed the successful campaigns against the closure of the Leith Registrar’s Office and the music school at Broughton High and this can only encourage campaigners that if they get it right they can force a U-turn by the council administration.

The proposals are now going out for consultation, with “focus group” events to be held in January and February at the schools involved. Given the numbers affected, hopefully the council will take all the necessary steps to ensure that all voices are heard.

The education, children and families committee will discuss the matter at its meeting in March which could prove to be a lively affair and hard decisions may have to be made.

The matter of education provision is understandably one of the most emotive subjects that councillors have to deal with, particularly if it involves school closures and first-time councillors may be facing yet another reversal of their plans.

Some may be forgiven for asking the coalition leadership whether this first year’s “baptism of fire” is really necessary?