School closures inevitable, says council
PRIMARY school closures are inevitable in Fife with some buildings currently in an "appalling" condition - that's the grim verdict of the council.
Many primaries in West Fife fall well short of meeting the council's "key strategic priorities" on the condition of buildings, a 60 per cent occupancy rate and a minimum roll of 50 pupils.
The council view is that some schools are in an "appalling" condition and will have to close.
SNP leader Mr Grant, as leader of the previous administration, had indicated that tough decisions would have to be taken over education but says he is not convinced schools have to close.
A report entitled, 'Towards a sustainable school estate' by executive director of education Ken Greer was debated by the council's executive committee on Tuesday.
Mr Grant was critical of the lack of detail in the report. He went on, "It's very carefully worded because everybody knows we are talking about school closures but the 'c' word never appears."
He also questioned the occupancy issue, pointing out there are schools who make good use of spare capacity providing facilities and services.
Mr Grant added, "There's nothing in here about schools who are performing well. Will that be ignored?"
Another issue he felt was being neglected was carbon efficiency and he said on cost per pupil that smaller schools would be more expensive as would those built under PFI/PPP.
Mr Grant said the closure of schools would mean bigger class sizes and Labour would "again be breaking promises to the people of Fife".
He continued that it would be very difficult to close small rural schools because it was Scottish Government's policy to protect them.
Ken Greer, executive director of education, responded to points raised including saying that the result of a judicial review of the closure of rural schools was expected in November.
Tory group leader Dave Dempsey was looking for more clarity on the council's criteria and what weight was given to them.
Mr Greer said it was a balance between giving details of the criteria but not being "dogmatic". He added, "We need to be prepared to show the rationale."
Dunfermline SNP councillor Brian Goodall said "The public are aware that rationalisation is a euphemism for closure and that's become clear today."
He added, "I'm in favour of the protection of rural schools. The protection is there for good reasons. Are we going to go out our way to include rural schools or accept the arguments for their protection."
Bryan Poole, the executive's spokesman for education, said, "We are at the start of a challenging process for Fife Council. It's inevitable that some of the schools will close.
"We have some schools which are in an appalling condition and we shouldn't be sending children to them. We have water coming through the roof and other things.
"If we can get it right and we're reinvesting in better facilities I think that will be supported by everybody."
Peter Grant said, "I'm not convinced that it's inevitable that we have school closures in Fife."
Council leader Alex Rowley said. "It's a very difficult area. There's a broad acceptance there are buildings not fit for purpose and they will close.
"It's crucial we have openness, transparency and all information is made inevitable." He added, "There are tough, tough challenges ahead. Some of the school estate is not fit for purpose and this is the start of that process."
The report to the executive stated, "The age profile of the school estate in Fife continues to provide some challenges. There are a significant number of schools built during periods of rapid population growth in the 1950s and 1960s which are now nearing the end of their design life.
"Whilst these buildings are not life expired, they are now presenting a number of issues and require significant maintenance to ensure their continued operation.
There are "key strategic priorities" considered essential to deliver education aims.
These are: Every school should rated as A or B for both condition and suitability.
Schools built using 1950/60s construction methods are reaching the end of their expected life-spans and despite planned maintenance and improvement projects many of these buildings continue to deteriorate.
Schools should have an occupancy rate greater than 60 per cent of capacity and consideration should be given to establishing a minimum number of pupils in any school which is less than five miles from another school.
The report added, "Years of falling school rolls and only a minimum reduction in capacity has resulted in 41 schools currently operating at less than 60 per cent of their capacity. Many others have significant over-capacity.
"It is important to consider the minimum number of pupils in a given school to ensure that pupils have sufficient opportunities for interaction with a range of their peers, to include opportunities to learn alongside other pupils of similar age and stage.
"Moving forward, any new schools will be designed to be a minimum of one stream i.e. seven classes to allow this learning to be most effective.
"Currently, there are a number of schools with low pupil numbers which does not allow this level of interaction to take place.
"Therefore schools should have a minimum of three classes, recognising that effective learning requires interaction between pupils. This group activity is most effective when children are of a similar age and to enable this where possible schools should have a minimum roll of 50 pupils."
Several West Fife primary schools do not meet the council criteria. Pitreavie with a roll of 212, has an occupancy rate of 58 per cent and the condition of the building is 'C'.
Crombie has a roll of just 18, an occupancy rate of 36 per cent. Wellwood fails on all the main criteria with a roll of 31, an occupancy rate of 33 per cent and a 'C' rating for condition and suitability of the building.
This article appeared in Dunfermline Press 04 Oct 12
Have your say. Post a comment on this article.
Oct 4, 18:07
Fife council are about to give permission for a couple of thousand new houses between Wellwood and Parkneuk. Milesmark school has an occupance of about 96% including one class in a hut. What school are all the kids in the new housing going to go to? Joined up thinking from Fife council again.
Recommend? Yes 3 No 1
Oct 4, 20:14
Was I dreaming or did I read in last week's Press that - 'Plans for up to 4000 new houses, a new high school and three new primary schools in Dunfermline are set to be approved next week.'?
Someone is needing to get the Council members making these decisions to talk to each other and get their figures right. It was also proposed that Wellwood Primary should be closed and the pupils moved to the under-occupied Queen Anne.
Every street you drive along in any part of Dunfermline have 'For Sale' or 'To Let' signs in gardens so who is going to buy these 4,000 new houses and who is going to give them mortgages?
Come on folks, get your heads out of 'cloud cuckoo' land and get 100% occupancy of the existing houses in Dunfermline!
Recommend? Yes 1 No 4
Oct 6, 17:10
Perhaps Mr Greer can explain how some of the schools built in the last decade are already strugglin with number of kids whilst other new build have significant spare space. Significant up front money and recurring spend coud have been saved if they had got that right.
Recommend? Yes 1 No 0