Claire Black: Liberton safety issues are alarming

SCHOOL mornings are hectic. Breakfast, finding out what’s happening in the day ahead, outfit choices, homework, stern words about doing homework at night rather than in the morning.
Keane Wallis-Bennetts school was category B for repairs. Photograph: Facebook/HemediaKeane Wallis-Bennetts school was category B for repairs. Photograph: Facebook/Hemedia
Keane Wallis-Bennetts school was category B for repairs. Photograph: Facebook/Hemedia

Hair straightening. Bag packing. Getting out the door on time is a serious challenge.

I don’t know what the pre-school routine was in the Wallis-Bennett household but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was something like this and that’s part of what is making me so sad every time I think of 12-year-old Keane Wallis-Bennett. It’s the thought that last Tuesday morning, before Keane left home for a day at Liberton High School, the family’s morning was probably spent on all of these mundane, everyday, run of the mill activities. Why wouldn’t it have been? They couldn’t possibly have known, or ever have imagined, what was to happen that day.

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Shortly after Keane had arrived at school, as she was getting changed for PE, a modesty wall which ran up the middle of the changing room collapsed. Keane was killed. It’s hard to imagine how devastating it must be for the 12-year-old’s family to have said goodbye to their daughter on that ordinary day, when everything was just as it always was, only to discover later that nothing for them would ever be the same.

Tributes for Keane have been many and moving. Her family have spoken of their grief and said that Keane was their “princess”. The great and the good have been saying the right things too. David Cameron has said Keane’s death was “absolutely shocking” and that “lessons must be learned”. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon expressed her “sincere condolences”, a sentiment echoed across Holyrood, and stated that a Police Scotland and Health and Safety Executive inquiry is under way. Edinburgh Council has insisted that it is cooperating fully and has launched a survey of all modesty walls in school changing rooms across the city. I don’t doubt the sincerity behind any of this. Who wouldn’t want to do everything in their power to make sure that such a needless tragedy never happened again?

And yet, somehow it doesn’t seem quite enough. Knowing that in February, Edinburgh Council was fined £8,000 after a 15-year-old pupil was seriously injured falling 16ft down a lift shaft at the same school in December 2011 doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Nor does the fact that although it is estimated that £80 million is needed to repair the city’s crumbling schools, only £30m is actually budgeted.

It’s been reported that Liberton High School was dropped down the council’s priority repair list because of financial pressures. Surveys carried out at the school found that it needed “significant” work, but it was marked as category B, rather than the higher priority A. It wasn’t deemed as bad as some other schools.

When kids leave home in the morning for school the very least we can expect is that they’ll be properly looked after. Actually, I think children and their parents deserve much more than that. School buildings should be places where time and effort – and money – is spent on creating the best learning environment, not dilapidated wrecks marred with peeling paint and leaky roofs where even basic safety is an issue. How have things been allowed to get this bad?

On your marks, get set, read

NO. No. No. No. No. Let me explain: “Reading is inherently time consuming because your eyes have to move from word to word and line to line.” This is a statement from the creators of a new app called Spritz. It makes me want to scream. As does the slogan, “Reading Reimagined”. Why? Why must we do this? What’s wrong with reading as it is? Basically, Spritz is a speed reading tool. Some boffin has calculated that when we read we spend 80 per cent of our time moving our eyes and only 20 per cent processing the meaning of the words. So? Well, this means that if we don’t have to move our eyes we can read faster, making use of all that wasted capacity. So Spritz flashes one word at a time in the middle of the screen which apparently makes it really rather speedy. It also, however, means that reading is reduced to “processing meaning” rather than feeling, interpreting, thinking. All that time that you get to spend imagining yourself into the mind of a character, or setting, or thinking about what you might do in a certain situation, or how you feel moved by a certain event is deemed extraneous. Sometimes I really wish everyone would just take a massive chill pill.

I love my job, I love my job

I AM making no claims for how much you’ve enjoyed this column, but count yourself lucky that I’m not following the example of New York court stenographer, Daniel Kochanski, 43, who was fired for typing “I hate my job” repeatedly. Or, when he got bored of that, typing gibberish. Obviously, I realise that this is a serious infraction – it affected 30 cases and 10 appeal convictions may come down to what Kochanski did. There’s also the fact that Kochanski has a problem with alcohol misuse, which is no laughing matter either. And yet somehow I can’t help smiling when I think of him doing this. I just can’t stop. I just can’t stop. I just can’t stop. OK, I’m stopping.