Steve Cardownie: Hint of snobbery over Edinburgh school merger
and live on Freeview channel 276
The first thing that came to my attention was that 36 questions had been tabled by individual councillors which had to be answered in writing by the appropriate administration councillor with the questioner being allowed to verbally ask a supplementary question if they so desired, a time-consuming exercise to say the least.
Before that, however, the meeting had agreed to hear a number of deputations, the first one of which was on the subject of the South West Schools Review and, in particular, the proposed merger of Currie High School with the Wester Hailes Education Centre into a new purpose-built high school. The Pentlands Neighbourhood Partnership had passed a resolution on this issue at their January meeting and this was on the council agenda for noting. The motion asked the council to recognise the significant level of public opposition to the schools review and to agree that the proposals demonstrated a lack of understanding of the extraordinary characteristics of this area compared to other parts of the city.
The partnership’s motion also said there had been no thought or consideration to the significant importance that the high schools have within their respective communities (Balerno, Currie and Wester Hailes/Sighthill) and that the review fails to recognise the mutually beneficial link that CCHS has with Woodlands School. It also highlighted a lack of awareness that all three options presented to the communities would have a significant impact on transport and the environment. It reiterates the need for a full educational impact assessment of the proposals and the need to work with the wider community, not just those with children at the school.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Capital coalition is already on record as saying the current consultation exercise is purely informal and that, should the proposals proceed, a full education assessment and a formal consultation exercise will be undertaken – as they are required to do by law – the motion seems to be a well-thought-out response to what’s on the table. As the motion was on the council agenda, deputations could be heard on the matter at the meeting and one such deputation was heard on the issue.
So far, so good. An accusation has been levelled at the parents of Currie High School pupils that their opposition to the proposals is borne out of elitism and and not a little snobbery. The suggestion is they do not want their children being educated alongside pupils who live in Wester Hailes and the deputation initially did little to dispel this notion.
Unprompted, the deputation highlighted the differences between the catchment areas of the two schools on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, citing evidence that the educational attainment of such merged schools fell and “took some time to pick up again”. Statements like Wester Hailes “punches above its weight amongst its own people” can only foster the belief that there is an undercurrent of anti-social sentiment within some opponents of the proposal.
After that, the deputation attempted to regroup but some collateral damage was done to the overall strategy that the campaign was all about current community concerns and that there was no bias against Wester Hailes.
It would be ludicrous to suggest that the opposition case has been marred to any great extent by these throwaway lines but it could raise some doubt in the minds of the listener as to its motivation if the impression is not quickly and emphatically refuted.
When writing about the issues that will have to be addressed by the Capital coalition this year in an earlier column, I stated that “what might prove to be more problematic is the question of school rationalisation, as there is almost no other subject more emotive than that of children’s education and the potential impact of school closures on local communities”.
Nothing I have seen so far has disabused me of this view. Campaigns against the proposals are in full swing and the “formal” stage has not been even reached yet (if it ever will) so there is a great deal more to be heard on the subject.
In this case, the council’s task is to convince those affected that if the proposals go through they are in the best educational interests of the majority of pupils, that attainment levels will be raised and not lowered, that local communities will not see the amenities they currently enjoy suffer and that any new school will not mean that pupils will face a hazardous and time-consuming route in pursuit of their education.
No one said it would be easy!