Not done one of these in a while, though not because councils have somehow got their act together. Far from it.
Tales of woe, incompetence and bureaucracy reach the burdz ears regularly via friends and family. Is there much difference around the country? Not really, though some clearly are better than others. And if anyone wants to share good things about cooncils, then feel free. I’d be glad to post, to relieve the unrelenting gloom of waste and bizarre decision-making.
But while we wait for such a one to reach this blog’s shores, allow me to share this little gem with you. And hopefully reassure teachers, that while, like many, I have some “issues” with the quality of education imparted these days, actually I reckon you do a great job, sometimes made a whole lot harder by the planners who plague your lives.
The closure of a local school caused not a little local difficulty. The community rallied, packed out consultation meetings, and organised the usual, futile protest. Yes, the roll was falling but the solution was to rezone the catchment areas to take pressure off the surrounding schools which were running – then – at over 80% capacity. The closure plan did not really take account of future population: the area had been a magnet for first time buyers and young families and would continue to be so. Local school rolls were likely to increase in the short-term and the council’s demographic modelling did not stack up.
In any event, closing that one school would result in capital and revenue expenditure for the other schools – there would be no savings if new nurseries and extensions would have to be built. Moreover, none of the teachers at the closing school would lose their jobs, they would simply be redeployed. The local population looked at the figures and scratched their heads.
And lo, all that they had foreseen, has come to pass. Less than two years after the school closed.
One got a new purpose-built nursery school to free up the main school building for an extra Primary one class. The nursery resembles a battery farm – square block, minimum footprint, tiny wee windows facing away from the natural light – and was thrown up in a summer. Having operated at full capacity ie with as many children as could be squeezed into the space made available, for a year, it now transpires that demand is exceeding supply. There are too many children wanting places whose families will now have to transport them at least two miles to another nursery. Which is within the rules, as there is no catchment for nursery education, but not very clever.
This is a brand new building that should have been future-proofed. It is less than two years old and already it is not fit for purpose. What a waste of money.
But the real headache caused by this school’s closure is that the surrounding schools are now bursting at the seams, due to the population growth the local community forecast and the council ignored. One school is increasing from two maximum-size primary one classes of 25 to four – three at 25 each and one composite also at the legal maximum of 25. The infant block only has space for two classes so some wee primary ones will be mixing with the big boys and girls. The school is losing either its computer suite or its library – stocked with resources fundraised for by families – to accommodate the extra class. The children at this school will be disadvantaged compared to peers elsewhere in terms of access to resources.
Other classes will also be operating after the summer at the max. The primary three class starts the new school year with 31 pupils – one over the statutory maximum. Go figure. The two composites are at 25. The average class size in the P4 – 7s is 31. The primary four class is now within the statutory limit for the first time in those children’s academic career, but only because said limit increases from 30 to 33 due to their age. No, I’m not sure what difference six weeks make here either.
There is the grand total of ten spare places anywhere, in any class in the school. If any new families move into the area over the summer, they could be toiling to get their children into the catchment school.
And of course that then influences whether or not a family does move into the area. In a few years, the school could go from weans swinging from the rafters to ghostly corridors as families vote with their feet and move to areas where schools have space for their children and class sizes are smaller. Such are the vagaries and consequences of ill-thought out council planning.
Are there extra resources coming to help ease the load? Dinnae be daft. The curriculum budget has been cut so less money is available for classroom materials, though admittedly all these extra weans will result in a wee filip to the school budget. The numbers of classroom assistants has already been reduced. Classes with significant numbers of children with additional support needs do not have an assistant assigned – they are all peripatetic now, spending only a few hours every week even with pupils who clearly need full-time one to one support, flitting constantly between classrooms.
If the prospect of the new school year is distressing to parents, it will already be gnawing at teachers. The summer holidays will never have seemed so short or so necessary. So to teachers at this particular school – and elsewhere – enjoy your break. Please do recharge your batteries – you’re going to need as much energy as you can muster.