Scotland education: 'First-of-its-kind' emergency call over state of Highland school buildings
Highland Council has been urged to declare a first-of-its-kind emergency due to the extremely poor condition of many school buildings in the region.
Councillor Helen Crawford, from the Aird and Loch Ness Ward, said across Scotland, almost 91 per cent of school buildings are graded A-Good for condition and suitability. In the Highlands, however, not even 20 per cent reach this standard.
Official figures show 10 per cent of secondary schools nationwide are rated C-Poor, while in the Highlands this jumps to 37 per cent.
The contrast has led to Cllr Crawford lodging a motion for the Highland Council to declare a “school estate emergency” – said to be a first-of-its kind in Scotland.
“We know that thousands of our children across the Highlands are spending their school day in buildings that are not fit for purpose,” she said. "And an unacceptable number of teaching and support staff are spending their working life in those buildings too and that must impact negatively upon recruitment and retention of teachers.
"The poor state of schools across Highland is significantly worse than the rest of Scotland.”
In addition to declaring an emergency, the Highland councillor has called for an immediate action plan to improve the state of the region’s schools.
The motion also calls for the leader of the council to write to First Minister Humza Yousaf, social justice secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville and education secretary Jenny Gilruth outlining the urgent need for additional resources to address the disparity between the Highland school estate and the rest of Scotland.
It also demands Ms Gilruth is invited to attend the next full council committee to answer questions from members regarding the funding shortfall.
The Scottish Government said the repair and maintenance of the school estate was the responsibility of local authorities.
A spokesperson said Highland Council had received financial support through phases one and two of the £2 billion Learning Estate Improvement Programme (LEIP), which should be used for supporting the construction of new schools in the region. Phase three of LEIP supports a priority project in local authorities which have not yet benefited from LEIP, so that all councils are treated “fairly and equitably.
The Scottish Government said it had not yet received a request for a meeting, but would be willing to discuss issues with Highland Council around the school estate.
The Educational Institute Scotland (EIS), the country’s largest teaching union, said the budget situation was making it “extremely difficult to consider necessary repairs, let alone the building of new schools”.
An EIS spokesperson said: “The fairly recent decision by the Scottish Government not to award funds through the LEIP was a huge disappointment, causing great concern amongst communities who have been looking for new or upgraded schools for a period of time. A prime example being Park Primary in Invergordon, a part of the unsuccessful LEIP bid, where the pupils have been housed within the local secondary school since their own building burned down over the course of two fires in 2020 and 2021.
“Highland Council are doing what they can, with what resources they have. But it does appear that without intervention at a national level, they will indeed find the challenge of maintaining a school estate that is fit for purpose too great."
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