Opinion: Penicuik’s Education Problem
Rolls are falling and there is a big problem, but how do you fix it?
There are just six days left in Midlothian Council’s consultation on ‘primary’ school catchment zones in Penicuik, but the Council were never going to get it right, writes our Editor.
You may not be aware of the fact that Midlothian Council are planning on changing the school your child goes to from August 2015. They’ve given you a small period of time to let them know your view, but that time is running out quickly. Before I start to give my view, why don’t you have a read of the proposals by clicking here?
And now you know. However this consultation was a brave move by MC after the butchered merger consultation in 2011. They were faced with a public backlash then, due to the inaccurate figures quoted in their document, and the general ludicrousness of a split site high school. Now they are back with a nice little tame catchment review. No fanfare, no thirty page document, just a cutesy catchment booklet. But this is so much more than that. It’s a primary catchment review which takes aim at Penicuik’s secondary schools, so much so that one of its proposals is actually really nothing to do with what primary school you send your child to but what secondary school you would send your child to. This isn’t a primary catchment review, this is a Midlothian Council catchment review.
The local authority are up against it though. The secondary school rolls are falling and there is a disproportionate spread of pupils in the primary schools. It would seem daft then not to alter the school catchments, surely? A fair assessment yes, if this review was actually to do with the current situation. This isn’t a catchment review for today though, it is one for the future, not the near future, not even the medium term, it is for the distant future, when the housing developers roll into town with their many millions of contributions to the local education provision.
However the housing developer express is currently held up in roadworks and the passengers are starting to get a bit restless. The ongoing consultation allocates the housing land a catchment school, which would have happened anyway, but to allow for the provision of additional houses, which could arrive at anytime, or not at all, current housing areas have been rezoned to new schools. A bit hasty, no? Under the proposals, Deanburn would move from Mauricewood PS to Cuiken PS and then onwards from Beeslack HS to Penicuik HS. Don’t worry, the council say, Taylor Wimpey’s Greenlaw Mill will produce the same number of pupils. That’s fine and well but when is the question? Will it be in August 2015, when the changes come into force, or will it be many years later? That question the council can’t even answer. Taylor Wimpey are currently in limbo with discussions with the council to allow them to even break ground, let alone erect the first dwelling. TW says a Spring start is likely but we heard that last year. Elsewhere housing site H16 remains a no-man’s land between developers with only Cala Homes pledging to develop a small piece of land beside Deanburn. Cala do not have permission subject to terms (which TW do) and are still likely at least a year away breaking ground. The rest of H16 used to belong to MacTaggart & Mickel, who had elaborate plans for thousands of homes right across north west Penicuik; they no longer exist and the land is now believed to be under mixed ownership with no current plans for housing.
So it is a consultation based on future plans which may never materialise. What if the rolls just keep falling, but because of the catchment review both secondary high schools will be weak. Obviously then one would have to close. What if the council houses on H16 are the only houses to be built? Well then Penicuik High would have a higher roll than Beeslack and Midlothian’s highest achieving school (Beeslack) would continue to flatline. Eventually the council would put the the comatose school out of its misery and would transfer the remaining students to Penicuik HS.
What can be done then to fix the current problem? If a new single site secondary school was built for the current roll then a new school would be needed if the housing did materialise (or the school would have to be large enough to accommodate around 1500 pupils, if not more). Midlothian Council have admitted that Beeslack High has reached the end of its life, and the majority of Penicuik High is now ready to be demolished, but with the current uncertainty, Midlothian Council can’t commit around £31M to build a school which would be very uneconomical to run. Nevertheless they do say that once Newbattle has their new school they will re-evaluate the current situation in Penicuik.
That’s a catchment review discounted, a new single site school discounted (at the moment) so there is now only one option. That option is option 3C from Midlothian’s merger consultation; Loanhead from Lasswade to Penicuik. Under previous plans, Midlothian Council could rearrange the catchment area for Lasswade HS, after all it is near capacity. Killing two birds with one stone, they could change Loanhead’s primary schools so that pupils would go on to Penicuik’s high schools instead of the new Lasswade Centre. Logistically this would work, but yet again what if the housing does come? Would a new secondary school be needed for Loanhead and Bilston so that Penicuik’s schools could accommodate the influx of pupils from new houses at Auchendinny and Roslin along with those in the town? Yes is likely to be the answer.
There is no easy fix for the current education crisis in the secondary schools and the current proposals will certainly not help. Midlothian Council, listen to the people and return to the drawing board. We don’t need some half-baked fix, we need a complete rethink but now is not the time.
Join the campaign to alter the council’s current proposals to delay the transferal of pupils at Strathesk PS to Penicuik HS until new housing provides the same number of pupils. You can do this on Facebook, www.Facebook.com/Save.Beeslack, or share your view with us on Twitter @Penicuik_Cuckoo.
[Image © Beeslack High]