Crumbling high school can't cope

THE crumbling toilet block is so unpleasant some pupils choose to pop home rather than use it.

Classrooms in its towering main block are so badly insulated that children and staff are dreading the chill winds which whip in from the Forth in winter. The failing lift means disabled pupils often can't be taught with their classmates.

Welcome to Portobello High School - or Portobello High Schoo as the damaged sign, with a missing l, on one of its walls proclaims - where children have just been told there is no money to build their long-planned new school. Staff and pupils have endless complaints about the state of the crumbling 1960s building.

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They all agree on two things: the school is a good one - but the building is appalling, and harming the children's education.

The children have to travel more than a mile to PE lessons and teachers can't use modern teaching aides because the ageing electrical system can't cope.

Stephen McIntyre, a member of campaign group Portobello For New Schools and a former head boy at the school, said many of the problems had been apparent when he was a pupil more than 30 years ago - and had only grown worse since.

Mr McIntyre, 48, whose 17-year-old daughter Lisa is now a Portobello pupil, said: "The difficulty is Portobello is still a good school even though it is falling apart. But there are children at this school who have to go home just to use the toilets because they think they are in such a disgusting state. The conditions there are harming their education."

Portobello is one of five schools which have been told there is no money for the rebuilding or refurbishment they had been expecting.

James Gillespie's and Boroughmuir high schools, as well as St John's Primary in Portobello and St Crispin's Special School in Blackford, have been dealt the same blow.

The news that the plug has been pulled on the council's 100 million plans has been met with anger and bewilderment by parents, children and staff.

Kenneth Aitken, chairman of the Portobello High School Parents' Committee, said: "The inside of the school is tired and neglected. It has suffered from years of neglect and has a whole raft of systems that have expired. The teachers cannot use the most up to date aides because the electricity supply is at capacity.

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"The classrooms are extremely cold because the windows are still the original ones.

"It was built with designs from the 1960s which are still there and not what we would expect from the 21st century. The school is cracking at the seams."

A furore has been sparked by SNP Education Minister Fiona Hyslop telling the city it does not have the money set aside for the work.

The SNP has been accused of breaking a manifesto promise to match the former Scottish Executive's school building plans "brick for brick" by refusing to commit the necessary money.

The move has been branded "a scandal" by the city's Labour education spokesman, Councillor Andrew Burns.

But deputy council leader Councillor Steve Cardownie, the leader of the SNP on the city council, defended the Scottish Government, saying it was up to the council to fight for the funding from Holyrood.

He said: "I've been through the correspondence and there has never been any commitment from the Scottish Government to provide the funding. It was incompetent of them [Labour] to think that there was.

"There is no doubt that these five schools are in need of rebuilding or refurbishment, and we will have to go and make a new case to the Scottish Government to secure as much funding as we can because children's education is a top priority." Lothians Labour MSP George Foulkes has taken up the school's case after being appalled at the state of the building during a visit last week.

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He said: "I visited Portobello High School on Friday and was tremendously impressed by the work being done there.

"It was one of the most orderly and effective schools I have seen for a long time.

"But it was clear the building is not fit for purpose and the sports arrangements unsatisfactory.

"Even on our planned timetable it would have been difficult for them. Postponement will be a bitter blow."

In a letter to Ms Hyslop, he also bemoaned the fact that pupils were forced to travel to the Jack Kane Centre for sports, a situation he described as "totally unsatisfactory".

Outside the school, one 16-year-old pupil, described the state of the building as "horrible". She said: "The toilets don't even have any seats on them. The floor is always soaking and the windows are open too which makes it freezing.

"A lot of people go home at break to use the toilets.

"There are four lifts and only one of them works. It breaks down a lot so disabled pupils have to go to a room on the ground floor instead."

The Government said it had increased funding to Edinburgh schools by almost 1.5m since the election and that any decision on the 100m project would have to wait.

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A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We know the importance of modern, well-equipped buildings in providing high-quality education. It is up to councils to look after their school buildings, but we are committed to seeing improvements.

"We've made it absolutely clear that we'll match brick for brick the previous administration's plans for school buildings and refurbishment and we will honour PPP contracts agreed. In Edinburgh's case that means rebuilding six new secondary schools and two new primaries.

"We have also already increased the previous administration's allocation of Schools Fund capital grant from 9.3m to 10.7m for the current year. Future plans are dependant on the forthcoming spending review."

The city council said work had been carried out in recent years to ensure the school was safe, but a whole new school was required.

The city's education leader, Councillor Marilyne MacLaren, said: "I completely support the parents who describe the really awful conditions at the school."

A council spokeswoman added: "Over the last few years we have carried out improvement works to Portobello High to ensure that the building is safe to be used as a school. We recognise that significant refurbishment and ideally a new school is required to give the people of Portobello a 21st-century school."

Building funds spark battle at First Minister's Questions

FUNDING for Edinburgh's schools building programme became the battleground between Labour leader Wendy Alexander and Alex Salmond at First Minister's Questions.

Ms Alexander accused the Government of failing to keep the party's pledge to match Labour's school building programme "brick for brick".

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She claimed SNP Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop had "told the people of Edinburgh that the Scottish Government would not fund plans to rebuild or refurbish five ageing Edinburgh schools".

But Mr Salmond insisted: "This Government will match the previous Executive's commitment brick for brick - but we won't use the hyper-expensive private finance initiative, we will use much better means of public finance."

He said there had been no commitment made to Edinburgh on funding for new schools.

And he produced a letter from the previous Executive, dated February 27, to the city council.

Although the letter says the Executive planned more school building and encouraged the council to continue drawing up more detailed plans, it makes clear any final decision on funding would be made after the election and in the context of the next spending review.

Mr Salmond added: "I know Wendy Alexander is new to the job. If Labour are not going to continue to let the people down, then she had better come armed with facts and figures to these question times.

"It's one thing letting people down in government, Wendy Alexander is letting them down in opposition."

Ms Alexander said that the previous Executive had helped provide 20 new schools in the Capital, 14 in the first wave of building work and six in the second wave.

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But she said: "Instead of wave three happening under the SNP they are being told to wait."