Tough call over Fife school closures

Is the writing on the blackboard for some Fife schools?
Is the writing on the blackboard for some Fife schools?

COUNCILLORS have warned school closures could have devastating impacts on communities in Fife.

Fife Council is currently carrying out a review of its entire schools estate - including primary and secondary schools, nurseries and special schools – and proposals to close or merge some schools are due to be revealed next month.

The aim is to reduce some of the 16,000 surplus places, and to free up funds currently being spent on the upkeep of buildings which are not being fully utilised, with some of the savings being re-invested in improving children’s education.

However, this will inevitably mean some schools will have to close – leaving councillors with some very tough decisions.

Speaking during a presentation on the schools estate strategy, Ken Greer, Fife Council’s executive director of education, said the aim was to allow more funding to be invested in children’s education instead of the upkeep of school buildings, to enable the Council to provide the best quality learning, teaching and care for our children.

Tough lessons

But he acknowledged: “Whenever proposals come forward they won’t have universal approval.”

Last year, Dunearn Primary in Kirkcaldy was closed – with pupils transferring to Fair Isle, Strathallan, Torbain and Valley primaries – despite parents mounting a strong campaign to save the school.

Councillor David Ross (Labour, Kirkcaldy North) said many parents believed the consultation process was flawed and urged the Council to learn from the experience.

“The perception among the parents was that this was a ‘fait accompli’ and that any points made by them were not listened to,” he said.

“We have to learn from that.”

Mr Greer agreed it was important to learn lessons and there had to be genuine consultation on any proposals to come from the schools estate review.

He reported youngsters from Dunearn had generally settled in well in their new schools, but he admitted: “Proposals to close any school are always going to be painful and controversial.”

Councillor Tom Adams (Labour, Leven, Kennoway and Largo) spoke from experience of the devastating impact a school closure can have on a community.

Village impact

He said: “In West Wemyss, they closed the school there, as it only had 12 pupils, and they were bussed to the next school.

‘‘The whole village went downhill from there, families moved out, shops closed and buses stopped coming down. The village went from a population of 200 to about 60.

“Thankfully, we’re taking steps to change things, but we need to be aware of the impact closing a school can have on a community.”

Councillor Mark Hood (Labour, Lochgelly and Cardenden) witnessed for himself the “fantastic” work going on in one school during a recent visit, but said the teachers were restricted in what they could do by a building which was more than 100 years old.

“Raising attainment is all in the teaching, and I met some excellent teachers during my visit, who made good use of the space available, but were constrained simply by the building in which they were working,” he said.

“We seem to be spending more on maintaining buildings than teaching. We’re spending lots of money in one area when we really want to spend it in another area.”

Detailed proposals of schools earmarked for closure should go before the Council’s executive committee on March 26. Discussions are currently ongoing regarding the possibility of councillors being given advanced notice of proposed closures, particularly those in their own wards.