Ian Perry: Pupils will be at heart of our decisions
The economic growth of Edinburgh means that change is inevitable. The issues facing education in West and South West Edinburgh are symptomatic of what is happening all over the city.
The housebuilding explosion as a result of Edinburgh’s growth means we have to build new schools. In West and South West Edinburgh we need to build at least one new school, rebuild Currie Community High School and expand Balerno High School. Over the next five to ten years we will be spending over £100 million in school building infrastructure in this part of the city. The issue we have been grappling with in the education, children and families committee is how to get the maximum educational benefit from this investment.
The most pressing issue facing education is the attainment gap – the gap between those who do well at school and those who don’t do so well. In order for everyone to benefit from Edinburgh’s prosperity we have to drive up attainment whilst maintaining the exam success achieved over recent years.
Four options have been proposed following extensive discussion with the local communities involved. The most popular option was the status quo. That will give us two new state-of-the art-schools and two refurbished schools.
The most contentious option is to merge Wester Hailes Education Centre with Currie. At present there are only 300 pupils in WHEC which makes it difficult to provide a comprehensive education. The number of subjects taught at WHEC, particularly at Higher level, are far fewer than those taught in the other high schools in the area.
A larger school by virtue of its size will be able to offer all the young people of the Currie and WHEC a much more varied and expansive curriculum on site – in other words it will be able to add value and choice to each young person’s education.
This desire to close the attainment gap has to be balanced against the potential loss of a school to the Wester Hailes community. A school provides a focal point for community activity and brings everyone together. If the committee did choose an option where education was no longer provided in Wester Hailes we would need to guarantee that the community facilities would remain.
The decision the committee takes in June needs to weigh up the different views expressed during the consultation – the desire to maintain the status quo in an ever-changing world or to use this investment opportunity to add educational value in closing the attainment gap. Whatever decision we take must be based around ensuring that all young people have the opportunity to realise their potential.
Councillor Ian Perry is education convener at Edinburgh City Council