Battle lines are drawn in school closure challenge
CONTROVERSIAL plans to close a city school have been challenged by two senior politicians who have drawn up “eight red lines” which they say cannot be crossed.
Sheila Gilmore MP and Kezia Dugdale MSP said the impact of closing Castlebrae High School would be too damaging to the surrounding community to be allowed to proceed and suggested the plans had not been properly considered.
The Labour representatives warned Edinburgh City Council – run by their own party – that shutting the Craigmillar school would have wide-ranging implications and lead to the disappearance of a range of community groups.
Mrs Gilmore, Edinburgh East MP, and Ms Dugdale, Lothians regional MSP, said closure would mean the loss of Craigmillar Books for Babies, which supports 650 families in the area.
The project, based rent-free in the janitor’s house on the school grounds, has recently been awarded National Lottery funding, but the politicians said closing Castlebrae would mean leaving it “homeless”.
They also warned sports facilities at the school were significantly better than in neighbouring schools and said that, in the event of closure, education leaders would have to guarantee a major investment in schools to which Castlebrae pupils are decanted.
“Should that school be Portobello, significant investment in the short term will be necessary as PE provision at Portobello High currently falls far short,” the two politicians wrote in a statement.
It is anticipated that 200 pupils at the Craigmillar school would transfer to Liberton, Portobello and Holy Rood High schools following the proposed closure next summer.
The estimated cost of maintaining Castlebrae over the next 30 years is £8.7 million, of which £3.5m would be required over the next five years. The cost per pupil for 2012-13 is expected to be more than twice the city average – £10,418 per pupil compared with £4757 for other schools – due to the school being half-empty.
Mrs Gilmore and Ms Dugdale issued their warning after a report was published this week confirming the intention of councillors to consult on closing Castlebrae. They wrote: “Having read this report we are concerned that it does not provide a fully rounded view of the role of this Community High School in its community or fully reflect its strengths.
“We also think that the report does not explain sufficiently the capacity of other schools in the area to cope with the changes required.”
The statement was dismissed by leaders of local campaign group Save the Brae, who accused Mrs Gilmore and Ms Dugdale of trying to deflect criticism from Labour counterparts in the city council. Group chair Kevin Finlay said: “We have here two colleagues, an MP and an MSP, coming out and saying the school should be saved, not that it will be saved.
“It just deflects a bit from what the councillors are doing on the ground. I just think that they all cover for each other –they close ranks.”
He added: “I would like [Gilmore and Dugdale] to say we are right behind the school and we are going to make sure it does not close until the kids at Castlebrae get the school that they have been promised.”
• Craigmillar Books for Babies: Based rent-free in the janitor’s house on the school grounds, its work supports 650 families in the area. Council would have to guarantee alternative premises.
• Vocational subjects: Used by a number of pupils from other schools, at risk of losing out if not transferred to their new school.
• Family centre: A facility for parents of under-threes also used by a number of carers who are providing day care for children on behalf of the Social Work department.
• Additional support needs: No less than 44 per cent of the pupils have additional support needs – almost twice the rate of any other school in the city. Should the school close, the resources and support for these students must transfer in full.
• Sports facilities: A guarantee must be given for the future of the pitches by transfer to a community body. Other schools such as Portobello would need major upgrades if Castlebrae decanted there.
• Community facilities: Not available anywhere else. The annual savings derived from closing the school should be reinvested in the educational opportunities of the young people and wider community of Craigmillar.
• Whether or not the school closes: Irrespective of any decision to close, we need a clear commitment from the council to the building of a new school in Craigmillar.
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