Emergency plan to stop overcrowding at 9 schools

Balgreen Primary school. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Balgreen Primary school. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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EMERGENCY plans are being drawn up to boost capacity at nine city primary schools as pressure on the Capital’s overcrowded classrooms intensifies.

Education bosses are set to quadruple the number of primaries undergoing capacity-boosting revamps, and nine schools operating at or above capacity have been short-listed by city leaders for emergency investment as part a drive to deliver extra space in schools bursting at the seams.

And in a sign of increasingly acute pressure, education chiefs said space constraints at crowded and congested school sites meant bolt-on extensions would not always be possible, meaning a range of radical measures will be considered in a bid to create learning space.

Transferring primary classes to secondary schools and reclaiming premises being used by some of Edinburgh’s best-known sports and hobby clubs are among the bold steps due to be explored.

The primary schools short-listed for phase two of the city’s Rising Rolls investment programme are Balgreen, Broughton, Craigour Park, Flora Stevenson’s, Fox Covert, Liberton, St David’s, St Mary’s Leith, and Stockbridge.

Councillor Paul Godzik, the city’s education leader said: “With primary school roll capacity due to rise by 19 per cent by 2020, the council has a responsibility to plan ahead to deal with the increased pressure of rising rolls. That is why we have set up a cross-party working group, which includes parental representation, to look specifically at this issue.”

The nine short-listed schools join Wardie, Trinity and Granton primaries, where planning permission has already been obtained for a series of extension and revamp projects.

Options which will be considered to increase capacity range from building new accommodation and sub-dividing existing teaching space to catchment reviews and relocating nurseries. Some of the proposed measures are even more radical, with suggestions that upper school classes at Flora Stevenson and St David’s RC primaries could be moved to neighbouring high schools, while Tynecastle Football Club and the local lapidary club may have to vacate temporary units at Balgreen and St Mary’s (Leith) primaries to make way for new classrooms.

Education chiefs stressed no final decisions had been made, but said they had to plan ahead.

“The paper highlights nine primary schools that could potentially face difficulties in meeting demand for catchment pupils,” said Cllr Godzik.

“At this stage it is too early to say whether or not the predicted roll numbers will come through, however, it is prudent that we plan ahead for the eventuality that they might.

“The paper identifies a number of possible options regarding how additional capacity could be provided at these schools, some of which will now be considered further.

“All options will be fully discussed with the school communities and parent councils before arriving at any final proposals.”

City planners said pressure on classrooms was the result of a relentlessly rising birth rate.

New data shows that a spike in the P1 intake – from 3500 in 2007 to nearly 4500 last year – was driven by a sharp rise in the number of births in each of the six years from 2002. They rose from just under 4500 to more than 5000 in 2007.

However, planners said the data suggested the rise in the number of births began to plateau after 2007, meaning the rate of increase in P1 numbers should also slow after this year.

Parents and opposition councillors welcomed the prospect of new investment, but said there was growing anxiety and frustration over “sticking-plaster” solutions to the problem of overcrowded city classrooms after seven primaries were closed by the previous council administration.

Susan Wilson, 49, whose child is in P6 at Granton Primary, said: “I don’t know why they demolished Royston Primary because all that did was create an overspill into Granton and the other schools roundabout.

“The fact some of the kids came to our school is fine, but it just seemed stupid to be pulling down a school that was already there only to mean that another school had to have classrooms added on.

“But I suppose that’s just the climate – they’re accommodating the problem that’s there and you can’t fault them for that.”

Councillor Melanie Main, education spokeswoman for the Capital’s Green group, said: “The scale of the P1 time bomb is laid bare in this report. Having closed seven schools in the last five years, the council now faces a bill of millions of pounds to accommodate rising numbers of pupils over the next six years.

“This August three schools are affected; next August another ten are added to the list. And the numbers may swell even further once Roman Catholic schools are taken into account.

“I’m also hearing that nursery capacity is under strain as numbers grow, but also as increased hours are added to nursery provision.

“In the short term, the city may have little choice but to swallow the consequence of poor planning but, for the long term, we need to be developing school buildings that can cope with the natural ebbing and flowing of the population rather than swinging wildly from the frying pan of school closures to the fire of temporary class blocks or off-site annexes.”

Coaches at Tynecastle FC – which occupies a temporary unit at Balgreen Primary being eyed by education planners as a possible venue for new learning space – said leaving would create a “massive problem”.

A spokesman said: “We’ve been here since 1984 – anyone that’s in situ for that length of time would be concerned about where they’re going to go.

“When we came, the temporary unit wasn’t being used by the school and it was in a state of disrepair.

“The after-school club and ourselves have made a considerable investment to make the building better.

“Where do you find accommodation in the vicinity around here? Moving would be a massive problem for us, but I’m sure there will be consultation going forward.”

Lessons in expansion

Balgreen Primary School

Current capacity: 329

2012/13 roll: 362

Options: provide additional accommodation; catchment review with Stenhouse and/or Dalry, relocate adjoining library and refurbish accommodation; relocate Tynecastle Football Club from temporary unit building.

Broughton Primary School

Current capacity: 329

2012/13 roll: 346

Options: provide additional accommodation; catchment review with Leith Walk, Abbeyhill and/or Royal Mile primaries; relocation of special language classes to Leith Walk Primary; reclaim separate After School Club building; reconfigure existing gym/nursery.

Craigour Park Primary School

Current capacity: 420

2012/13 roll: 360

Options: provide additional accommodation.

Flora Stevenson Primary School

Current capacity: 504

2012/13 roll: 490

Options: sub-divide existing classroom; provide additional accommodation; catchment review with Ferryhill Primary; relocate music school or nursery and convert for classroom use; move P7 classes to Broughton High.

Fox Covert Primary School

Current capacity: 210

2012/13 roll: 201

Options: sub-divide existing large classrooms.

Liberton Primary School

Current capacity: 420

2012/13 roll: 392

Options: convert existing space for classroom use; provide additional accommodation.

St David’s RC Primary School

Current capacity: 231

2012/13 roll: 242 pupils

Options: provide additional accommodation; relocate nursery provision by expanding the Early Years service at Craigroyston High; create an upper school annex in Craigroyston High.

St Mary’s RC Primary School (Leith)

Current capacity: 394

2012/13 roll: 285

Options: provide additional accommodation; reclaim and refurbish the temporary unit occupied by the Lapidary Club; catchment review with St Ninian’s RC Primary School.

Stockbridge Primary School

Current capacity: 210

2012/13 roll: 195

Options: reconfiguration of existing accommodation; provide additional accommodation; catchment review with Broughton and Flora Stevenson primaries; relocate nursery and convert as classroom.

Analysis

By Tina Woolnough, National Parents Forum

There is a buzz of parental anxiety across Edinburgh’s primary schools just now, as buildings and classes are re-organised to make space for incoming P1s in August.

“We all saw this coming in 2007/8, partly because we have seen families with young children moving into our communities and partly because Scottish Government statistics predicted it.

We parents campaigned and stopped the closure of over 20 schools. Unfortunately, a smaller programme of closures was implemented, despite parents arguing that a population boom was on its way.

Without doubt, the current situation has been caused by some of those school closures, as well as house-building in catchment areas without school capacity. The problem is not going away any time soon. Are there solutions for the council? Firstly, ask local communities, parents and school staff for their ideas before imposing a limited range of solutions. Allow parents and schools to drive master plans. Facilitate cluster-wide conversations and solutions. And look further than 2014.

The good news is the P1 boom is a vote of confidence in Edinburgh as a great place to grow up. We need to keep it that way.”