Feature: School Estate to be Overhauled
Midlothian Council announces closures and new builds in latest report into the future of the sector
“The current and planned level of housing in the Penicuik area is insufficient to sustain two secondary schools each with a minimum pupil roll of 750 pupils.”
The above quote is one which summarises Midlothian’s new education report. It is very much a story of ‘out with the old and in with the new’, with plans for six new schools and three renovations in total. Whilst we’ve come to expect the odd surprise in documents such like this, this year’s master plan offers a true overhaul of the school estate. Below we dissect the proposals.
Every five years, Midlothian Council publishes their obligatory master plan for the region. This years is no different to its predecessors, proposing thousands of new homes in the “A701 corridor”. Housing brings with it families, and with families, children, so Midlothian Council must anticipate a vast increase in pupil numbers and must, therefore, provide the infrastructure required to educate the minds of the future. On Tuesday 16 December, the council’s cabinet approved plans to stage a year of school catchment consultations across the county. Additionally they also unveiled that they would undertake numerous feasibility studies into providing new schools. For ease, the rest of this article will be separated into two sections: primary and secondary.
Midlothian Council currently has three new “A701 corridor” Primary Schools in planning: a new Bilston Primary School and replacements to Paradykes and Roslin Primary Schools. Bilston Primary School is in the most advanced stage of planning, having just successfully gained planning approval. The council will now find a contractor to undertake construction. This should commence early next year, aiming for an August 2016 opening date. Paradykes is set to move to beside Loanhead Lesiure Centre, where a new mixed use facility will be created. The old land would likely be used for housing. Roslin’s Primary School will also be replaced and should be operational by August 2017. Both Paradykes and Roslin’s new primary schools are yet to be designed, however it is believed an Architect has now been hired to oversee the builds. Regardless, that was a prerequisite to what is actually in the report. The report states that two consultations will be undertaken within the communities affected. For the new Bilston Primary, a public consultation will be undertaken in February or March next year. A consultation for the new Paradykes school will be undertaken in May or June. Further information will be circulated about these closer to the time, however the Bilston consultation will focus solely on the catchment boundaries whereas the Loanhead consultation will look at the location of the new school, along with the catchment boundaries. It is understood that Roslin will not have a public consultation, although there will be informal consultation with the parents at some point.
Glencorse Primary is to be closed. After many years of uncertainty, the allocation of new housing land at Auchendinny will lead to the eventual closure of Glencorse Primary School. With a roll of 29 pupils this year, but a capacity of 100, the school has lacked financial viability for many years. It is proposed that Miller Homes, who plan to construct 350 homes north of the Glencorse Centre, will fund, or partially fund, a new Auchendinny Primary School to serve the village and Milton Bridge. Pupils, who currently attend Glencorse, will likely be given the choice on whether to attend the new school or Mauricewood Primary School, which will be extended courtesy of Taylor Wimpey. It should be noted that Miller must still obtain permission for their development, though it is believed to be in a late stage of planning. Should the local development plan go unaltered, when it is approved next year, Miller could submit immediately afterwards and aim for a late 2016 commencement of construction. They plan to have 260 properties standing by 2024, so this timescale seems most likely.
In summary, plans include: three replacement schools at Bilston, Roslin and Paradykes, one completely new school at Auchendinny, one closure at Glencorse and three extensions at Mauricewood, Cornbank and Cuiken. Funding by the Scottish Government’s “Schools for the Future” programme will go to Bilston, Roslin and Paradykes, whilst developers’ contributions will part or wholly fund a new Auchendinny school along with extensions at Mauricewood, Cuiken and Cornbank.
The population in the region is ageing, thus the school rolls are falling. This is creating a substantial problem in Penicuik, due to the pace of development not matching the time taken for the rolls to fall. Both Beeslack CHS and Penicuik High School are operating below capacity, with Penicuik High School at a critical low point. Beeslack, which is associated with Mauricewood, Glencorse and Roslin Primaries, also serves as an overflow to Loanhead. It has a capacity of 860 but is operating, this year, with 739 pupils, equating to 85.9% occupancy. This occupancy is greater than that of Dalkeith and Newbattle High Schools, although their rolls are forecast to hold steady or rise. Penicuik High School is a different can of worms, with the lowest occupancy of all the non-denominational secondary schools in Midlothian, substantially so. The building has a capacity of 945 but is operating with only 565 pupils, equating to 59.8% occupancy.
Newly calculated projections of the school rolls, should nothing change, were published as part of the report. Beeslack is forecast to continue its decline, reaching a critical low of approximately 500 pupils in 2025 before starting to gain pupils again. Penicuik High’s roll is forecast to continue upwards from 2015 to 700 pupils before plateauing thereabouts for roughly ten years. The report says (section 5.2, page 7):
The planned and proposed housing development will bring more pupils into the area but what is planned will not be enough to sustain two secondary schools with the desirable level of pupils. In the meantime the pupil roll across both schools will continue to fall and we estimate that it will take until 2030 to begin to see any significant increase in the number of secondary pupils in the Penicuik area.
As the paragraph states above, two secondary schools are no longer sustainable in the town. This “desirable level of pupils” is a new quantifiable policy created by the council. For a secondary school to be fully successful, Midlothian believes that it must be served by at least 6,000 homes, or about 750 students. Including current, planned and proposed housing stock, both schools will still operate below this critical level. Beeslack would be associated to 5,672 homes and Penicuik High to 5,840. It is for that reason, four options are to be considered for the future of the Midlothian’s secondary schooling. These are detailed below:
- Option 1 – Maintain six secondary schools in the county (including New Shawfair) – No change to schooling in Penicuik
- Option 2 – Reduce estate to five schools (inc. New Shawfair) – Create single site Penicuik High School which would serve every primary school in Penicuik, Roslin, Bilston and Loanhead.
- Option 3 – Maintain six secondary schools (inc. New Shawfair) – Create a new Penicuik High School to serve primary schools in Penicuik, but relocate Beeslack to serve Bilston, Roslin and Loanhead.
- Option 4 – Increase estate to seven schools (inc. New Shawfair and New Gorebridge) – Same plans for Penicuik as per Option 3 with addition of a school at Gorebridge.
Option one seems unlikely due to the falling rolls. It would require a county wide catchment review to be undertaken frequently to best maximise the schooling estate. Should funding from the government not succeed, this would be the only option. Option two would create a so called “Super School” in Penicuik. This could have a roll near 1800 come 2040, a figure deemed unsustainable by many councils. A single site would be selected within Penicuik, most likely the vacant land at Beeslack or the playing fields at Penicuik High School. The report states that an alternative site has not yet been found in Penicuik. Option three is a new one, and a surprising one too. This option would replace the ageing Penicuik High School, rated a ‘C’ on the building condition scale, but also create a new secondary school somewhere up the A701. The “relocated Beeslack” could be located in the Bush Science Park or the new West Straiton development, although a study will investigate available sites further. It would serve Loanhead, Bilston and Roslin, which alone are set to generate enough pupils to run a successful secondary school (6,159 houses). For option three, funding would need to be sought for two secondary schools at once, totalling approximately £40m. A report from a council seminar on 11 November remarks:
Fundamental assumption in this option [#3] was that Beeslack would be relocated. In the context of SFT [Schools for the future] funding, it was thought unlikely that both Penicuik and Beeslack schools would be successful in the same round of SFT funding. With that in mind, and given the respective condition ratings for both schools (Penicuik was a C condition rating and Beeslack a B), it was thought likely that SFT would prioritise investment in Penicuik. However, the relocation of Beeslack at the earliest possible date would be key to realigning the catchment areas.
So, if option three was to emerge as the preferred option, Beeslack would likely continue to operate until about 2025, whilst Penicuik High could move in to their new school by 2020. Option two would prove quickest to implement. Should a funding application be granted in the next 18-24 months, construction could get underway in 2017, for an August 2020 opening date. This means that a pupil starting in first year in 2015 could end their school career in a new building.
A £10,000 feasibility study is to be undertaken to further investigate the options. This will probably lead to a public consultation sometime in 2016, though councillors will be keen to hear your views in the forthcoming round of Primary consultations. We’ll leave you with this quote from the report, highlighting the urgency to replace Penicuik’s secondary schools:
It is critical that the Council ensures it is well prepared and has a strategy in place which will allow it to bid for funding for any replacement school through further Schools for the Future funding awards from the Scottish Futures Trust.
It is therefore proposed that a detailed feasibility study looking at all the options available to the Council is progressed as a matter of urgency, and a report brought back updating Council on the relative costs, benefits and timing of each option.
What do you think about the proposals? Let us know your views below or email us at Hello@PenicuikCuckoo.co.uk.