Alison Johnstone: Let our schools be used to their full potential

I HOPE the city council will find a way to keep Buckstone Primary School open on a Thursday evening and so allow little Michael Smith to keep dancing (as reported in Friday's News).

Groups like Buckstone Youth Dance are at the heart of our communities but even if it is saved, how many other groups will struggle as a result of the decision to close primary schools on Thursday evenings? Is this the kind of message the city wants to send to community volunteers? What does it say about our vision for neighbourhoods if schools are lying dark and empty?

In the Green council manifesto for 2007, we set out a vision of schools as community hubs, far more than just places for reading, writing and sums. At my daughter's school, the parent council has made it a priority to reach out to the community as a whole.

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The council has argued that there are too many schools in Edinburgh but this is illusory. For example, in my ward, South Morningside Primary School is well-known to be bursting at the seams, yet is considered to have spare capacity.

The Thursday ban flies in the face of fuller use of schools. The administration has argued that it needs to balance the books after it rightly backtracked on plans to cut two per cent from frontline school budgets. However, the budget papers put to councillors simply talked of a need to review school lets, not shutting up shop with no dialogue. That is why I have pressed both the council leader and the education convener to reverse the ban.

A saving of 300,000 has been identified, although only a fraction of it will be from the Thursday night ban. So, instead of shutting schools down, how about seeing if schools can be used more? Why not devolve responsibility for lets to primary schools and let them keep the income? What about seeking to attract businesses as well as community groups, conferences as well as badminton clubs?

If we have the imagination to see schools as community assets then maybe far fewer of them will be seen as "surplus".

Alison Johnstone is Green councillor for Meadows/Morningside.