SCHOOLS 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.
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: “We need to run our school buildings more efficiently.
‘‘We need to have schools which are closely matched to current and future needs, which provide a stimulating learning environment and which we can afford to maintain to the standards parents expect.
“Money spent on poor quality buildings and excess places is money down the drain.
‘‘It is money which could be spent in learning and teaching invested in our children’s and grandchildren’s futures.
“The administration wants to see local schools of the right size, in the right place and in the right condition.
“This will mean taking some hard decisions.
‘‘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.”
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.
However, in the Kirkcaldy area, only the closed Dunearn, Fair Isle - which now houses former Dunearn pupils - Kirkcaldy North and Auchtertool fell into this category.
Primary school buildings in the area were all rated as good or satisfactory with the exception of Burntislan where there plans in place for a replacement.
Of the area’s secondary schools, Viewforth High is the only one in a poor condition and with an occupancy level under 60 per cent, and the Council intends launching a consultation on its future.
Meetings with headteachers and school parent councils will be held to look at the issues and challenges 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.
Cllr Rowley added: “In Fife we understand that the greatest gift we can give every young person is a high quality education.
‘‘Our children and young people need to experience 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 16000 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.”
>> This consultation is one the Council must get right. Editorial Comment: P21