Steve Cardownie: Schools rethink is a lesson in people power

Protesters campaigning to save Wester Hailes Education Centre
Protesters campaigning to save Wester Hailes Education Centre
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The thorny issue of school provision in the south west of the city is to be the subject of a report to the council’s education, children and families committee tomorrow

The council is in the throes of an informal consultation process on a set of proposals that are designed to attract the views of major stakeholders, such as pupils, parents, teachers and community groups. The response has been so negative and overwhelming that it has prompted a rethink which has resulted in another two options being drawn up for consideration.

The original plan included a proposal to close Currie High School and the Wester Hailes Education Centre and provide a purpose-built establishment that would be capable of supporting a roll made up of pupils from both schools.

As soon as this became known, wheels were put in motion to mount a campaign against it with opponents of the closure of Currie High School in particular to the fore. Protest meetings were held and petitions were drawn up, attracting thousands of signatures. Councillors were lobbied at their surgeries and by email as the campaign went into overdrive with a deputation also addressing a full council meeting, where they articulated a forceful case and answered questions from councillors. The very fact that alternative options have now been identified for consultation bears testimony to the effectiveness of the campaign and all involved should be congratulated.

READ MORE: Council puts forward alternative options for Currie/Wester Hailes school merger

Welcoming the listening attitude and the new position of the council, the local MSP Gordon Macdonald stated: “The Save Our Schools campaign has been very successful in making the views of the community heard by the council. The campaign has illustrated the worth and value of each of these schools in their respective communities. It has clearly shown that these schools are not just buildings. They are part of a long tradition of serving their local communities and bringing people together, of meeting local needs and supporting local people.”

Whilst acknowledging that the council has put additional options on the table, he insists that the goal of the campaign that the three high schools (the WHEC, Currie and Balerno) should remain open and on their current site still stands and needs to be addressed.

There is no doubt that council officials have been listening and taking on board many of the views expressed so far, but there is still a long way to go before the formal consultation process required by law can get underway. School closures or amalgamations are very emotive subjects and local politicians in particular will no doubt be keen to be seen on the right side of the argument for fear of suffering retribution at the ballot box if they are not.

The fact that many of the councillors entrusted to make the final decision are relatively new only adds to the mix. This may be the first time that they have been subjected to such pressure and they may be swayed by the strength of the argument that will continue to be made on educational and community grounds.

READ MORE: Steve Cardownie: Hint of snobbery over Edinburgh school merger

The matter is, as expected, exercising the minds of council group leaders who will be keeping “a weather eye” on the proceedings in an effort to ensure that when the time comes their respective groups reach the appropriate decision. Above all amongst all this frenetic activity, councillors must not forget the most important aspect of the whole issue and that is the educational needs of pupils.

Childhood adventures in the Fort and the docks

While I was preparing my son’s packed lunch for school, I had cause to pause and reflect on my own childhood school days. My experience differed from my son’s as I suspect that my relationship with my parents was not all that it should be.

The fact that they regularly wrapped my playpiece in a roadmap was a clear indication that something was amiss. I was discussing memories of days gone by with my friend (we call him the Olympic Flame because he never goes out) when I informed him that when I was young my parents moved around a lot – but I always found them though.

We reminisced about Leith and the opportunities it provided for adventurous play, particularly the docks and the Fort barracks. Not for us Playstation or Nintendo (the fact that they had not been invented then may have had something to do with it) but the open air in all weathers with wellie boots on and the “erse hingin’ oot yer troosers“. Fond memories indeed.

PS I am beginning to suspect that my wife may be dabbling in drug dealing – that’s three times now that I have picked up the phone and heard a man asking: “Is the dope in?”