Primary School Catchments Set to be Altered
Midlothian Council publishes favourable consultation results but Strathesk plans to be re-evaluated
Midlothian Council have published the results from the primary school catchment area consultation, revealing support for change to primary schools but concerns over hasty changes to the secondary school provision.
A consultation held earlier in the year to gauge the public’s views on changes to the primary school catchment areas in Penicuik has been considered by Education Scotland and the council will now give it three further weeks of consideration before a final report is debated in August.
Parents, staff and pupils from the local community were invited to participate in the consultation which proposed changes to Cuiken, Cornbank, Mauricewood, Glencorse and Strathesk primary schools, and their subsequent secondary schools. Overall proposals one to four, regarding the primary school catchment areas, were strongly supported by the respondents. However when asked whether Strathesk pupils should be sent to Penicuik High automatically for secondary schooling instead of having a choice between Beeslack CHS and the aforementioned school, respondents were apprehensive and suggested that any changes would be potentially damaging to Beeslack should planned housing on allocated land in the north west of Penicuik not materialise. Of the 97 people who responded 40% strongly disagreed with the realignment whilst 10% disagreed. Strong agreement stood at 18% whilst 16% of respondents agreed to the proposals. Some 15% of respondents stated they had no opinion on the change. Amongst the reasons for disagreement was the uncertainty over new housing and the impact on the falling school roll on course choices. Two of the reasons can be seen below:
There are two really good, high-achieving schools in Penicuik. Don’t address a specific problem in one by undermining the other. Link these proposals with the consultation at Loanhead primary schools and allow Loanhead children to be given the choice to go to Lasswade High School or Beeslack. Linking these two consultations will more proactively manage the decline in Penicuik High School by actually purposefully managing the ‘swap’ of pupils from Beeslack to Penicuik High.
Proposals 2 & 5 would reduce pupil numbers at Beeslack and consequently adversely affect the school’s ability to support a broad general curriculum, to maintain the range of courses on offer in the senior school and increase the number of classes taught as bi-level and tri-level sets. As course options reduce, the school will struggle to continue to attract the numbers of pupils to the school who come as a result of the school’s excellent reputation, which will have further implications for the school roll.
However those at Penicuik High School strongly supported the move which would see a gradual increase in their school roll. Penicuik High School is running at only 62% capacity and without changes to the catchment zones, their roll will only continue to fall, according to Midlothian Council. The situation is much the same at Beeslack CHS though with the school operating at 90% capacity, however the council forecasts that without change the school would continue to lose twenty pupils in their first year school roll every year. Changes to the catchment zones would see Beeslack lose 40 pupils per year until 2018 when it is foreseen that this number would gradually reduce with the aid of pupils from new housing. Should however the new housing not materialise, Beeslack’s school roll would continue to fall at the same rate. This has been cause for concern for some staff members who fear that the falling roll will affect course choices and subsequently the number of staff members required by department. It is believed that one staff member could be lost per department should the fall in roll not be calmed.
Education Scotland warned that the council must listen to the concerns when it comes to making their final decision whether to go ahead with proposals:
The council’s case for realigning the catchment areas of Cornbank St James, Cuiken, Glencorse, Mauricewood and Strathesk Primary Schools is sound and has won the support of most stakeholders. It will achieve a more balanced approach to school rolls. However, a number of issues have been identified by parents and staff as outlined in this report. The council needs to give full consideration to these issues. While the principle of a review of catchment areas is broadly supported, there is significant opposition to the proposal to nominate Penicuik High School as the secondary school to enrol all P7 pupils resident in the Strathesk catchment area. This includes the potential impact on Beeslack Community High School. As a result, the council needs to ensure it considers further this proposal to provide reassurances that it is the most reasonable option open to it.
It is clear that the council will likely proceed with proposals one to four however proposal five could be delayed, altered or scrapped altogether.Midlothian Council states that changes to the primary catchment areas will be made from August 2015 as previously planned however any changes to the secondary school catchments will now be delayed until August 2018, to allow a county wide secondary school consultation to be carried out.The final proposals will be discussed in a council meeting on August 12.
The full report can be read here.
What is your view? Are you happy that changes will likely be made or are you apprehensive of any hasty changes to the delicate schooling situation? Tell us in the comment box below or write to us at Hello@PenicuikCuckoo.co.uk.
Our View – Is Penicuik about to lose a secondary school?
This was a consultation doomed from its initial publication. It was a consultation masquerading as a consultation about primary schooling, however strangely, carelessly thrown in at the end of the consultation was a “quick fix” proposal about secondary schooling. After an embarrassing defeat two years ago when the council proposed a split site merged school, the council now seem to be scrambling to find a solution to the falling school rolls. Proposal five was however the most popular question in the entire document. Should Strathesk Primary School be associated solely with Penicuik High? Despite me saying it was popular, only 97 people responded, the highest number of respondents per question from the entire consultation. It now looks like Midlothian Council only sampled one hundred people. Out of around 2000 pupils in Penicuik, this is a shamefully low number. Was it not publicised enough? Did the parents or carers simply not care what happened to the catchment areas? Or was it something else? Whatever it was, justifying any changes on these results is questionable. Having said that, the council will proceed regardless.
Primary schooling ‘fixed’ the main problem still exists, what is going to be done with the secondary schools? The roles are unsustainable at both Beeslack CHS and Penicuik HS and both buildings are said to be “reaching the end of their life”, in the words of a senior council official. Naturally then we must think about a single site school? Forecast to cost £31m, the building would likely be based on land at Angle Park or at Beeslack on part of the 17.5 acre estate. It could however move further afield. The council want to build housing at Auchendinny so it could move out there closer to Roslin and Bilston where housing is also set to be built, or it could move into housing land in the north of Penicuik. However this would be a huge school, with a capacity much greater that Lasswade. Logistically it would be difficult to maintain and realistically parents would not agree to moving the school anywhere. Yes, if it was built today, the school would be relatively small compared to other super schools in Midlothian but if the planned housing in the north west of Penicuik does materialise, there would be a drastic need for a large extension or indeed another school, probably outwith Penicuik to serve parts of Loanhead, Bilston and Roslin.
Well then, it seems we’re stuck. Build a new school soon and face having to pay millions more for an extension. Do nothing now and face unsustainable falling rolls. The council are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Hence we now have the reason for proposal five. Behind the scenes there will be a lot of grovelling going on between the council and the future housing developers. There will be hand outs here and there hoping to spur on housing developers to build as fast as they can. Despite this though, the council must still meet their social housing quotas from the Scottish Government and developments of the size proposed in north west Penicuik are subject to larger social housing allocations. The developers do not like this, with it believed to be one of the problems holding up Greenlaw Mill.
How can the secondary schooling problem be fixed then? It is going to be difficult but a Midlothian wide reshuffle of catchment zones is desperately needed. Changing the areas in Loanhead will give Penicuik a decent boost (remember option 3C from the merger consultation) and the new housing should do the rest. It may come to a point then however that both schools are operating at capacity. Well as Sandra Banks states in a Greenlaw Mill planning document, Taylor Wimpey will need to contribute to a cost of an extension at BCHS anyway. Problem Solved? Only time would tell.