Review could mean closure of schools

Tanshall Primary School.
Tanshall Primary School.

SCHOOLS in the Glenrothes area in poor condition or with low occupancy levels could be closed or merged to free up funding to invest in children’s education.

Fife Council is beginning a review of its whole school estate and has published information on the occupancy rates for every school, the condition of the buildings, and how much is spent per pupil at each one.

But Councillor Fiona Grant (SNP, Glenrothes North, Leslie and Markinch) has called for a cautious approach, stressing schools can’t be judged on statistics alone.

She said: “The Labour administration have published figures about all local schools, but if you only looked at the figures you would be missing the real story about how important schools are to their local community.

“I do agree that the school estate should not be exempt from review but I think that the discussion should focus on how to use the buildings better.

“The Labour manifesto promises to ‘put people first and find ways to maintain the vital services they need’. This surely means protecting the schools, particularly in our older towns and villages.”

According to information published by the Council, based on school rolls in September 2011, 41 primary schools in Fife had occupancy levels under 60 per cent.

In the Glenrothes area, Warout, Milton of Balgonie, Star, Caskieberran, Leslie, Newcastle, Southwood and Tanshall all fell into that category.

Primary school buildings in the area were all rated as good or satisfactory with the exception of Warout and Pitcoudie, while Coaltown of Balgonie and Markinch were rated poor in terms of suitability.

Budget crisis

Of the area’s secondary schools, none were below 60 per cent capacity and only Auchmuty High School building was rated poor – and a new, replacement school has since been opened.

Council leader Alex Rowley said with the authority facing a budget crisis over the next three years, Fife was spending too much of its limited funds on patching up worn-out buildings and on surplus school places.

Cllr Rowley said: “Some schools which have served communities in Fife for years may have to merge with others, but we cannot bury our heads in the sand and ignore the problems.

“In Fife we understand the greatest gift we can give every young person is a high quality education with a curriculum which is well matched to their interests, their potential and their ambitions.

“To maximise their opportunities for learning, they need the support of dedicated teachers who are well-supported and highly valued but our school estate has been letting us down.

‘‘On a few of our primary school places we spend as much as five times as we do on others.

‘‘In addition, Fife has more than 16,000 spare places in its schools and yet thousands of children learn in poor conditions.

“It would be irresponsible not to examine this and against a background of massive cuts it becomes a necessity in order to protect the quality of education.”

Meetings with headteachers and parent councils will be held to look at the issues as part of a widespread consultation, and the Council’s executive director of education has been asked to report as soon as possible on how the long-term problems might be addressed.