This evening I attended a Q&A meeting in Oxgangs Primary School which had the aim of giving parents a chance to ask questions about the design, operation and maintenance of the school.
The school has been in the news since a wall on the east end of the building collapsed in 2016. I wasn’t a Councillor back then, but I did spot the wall had collapsed on my walk to work in January 2016 – indeed, the BBC often use the image I took early that morning when I reported it. Later that year I was one of a group of people that went around every door in Colinton-Mains with a handful of Councillors to ask people if they needed help dealing with the temporary closure of the school.
These memories are important as much of the Q&A meeting focussed on that time rather than the more recent failures. This focus was because that was the point at which parents lost trust in how the School building is being managed. This is understandable as the school opened too quickly after the wall initially collapsed and had to close again when it became clear that failure was a small part of a much bigger problem.
Indeed, it is clear from parents this evening that the worry and frustration about how the building is being managed stems back to 2016. They simply feel let down by the Council and ESP, the PFI company that runs the school building. The fact that the Council has now caught up with parents and also lost trust in ESP’s ability to provide a safe teaching environment may be welcome, but many parents feel it is long overdue.
Andrew Kerr, the Council’s Chief Executive, was clear this evening that the latest problems at the school had meant the contract with ESP was now being securitised and payments to them (over £1.5m per month for 17 schools) were being withheld. On ESP’s failure to attend the Q&A meeting, he was clear that it was “wholly reprehensible for them not to face the community they had let down”. ESP did, however, provide this statement.
Ron Fishie (Director) and John Paterson (Operations Director) from AMEY, the company who maintains the school for ESP, gave a clear apology to parents and said the standard of service they had provided had been acceptable. AMEY recognised that they had lost the trust of the school community, but were determined to rebuild it.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is now clear to me that inspections undertaken in 2016 did not go far enough and ESP can’t be trusted to run the building without independent scrutiny. Within that context, the following changes to how the building is managed look likely to be agreed:
- At their own cost, ESP will introduce an enhanced monitoring regime undertaken by an independent party.
- AMEY will publish details of all work and inspections undertaken in the school.
- The Council will publish details of how the work and inspections undertaken by AMEY is being scrutinised.
Although these changes are simple, the tone in which they were agreed was important. ESP and the Council have a lot of work to do if they want to regain the trust of parents, but it feels like the meeting tonight marked a change to a more constructive relationship. Time will tell!
The Council and ESP have a lot to do when it comes to regaining the trust of parents with children at Oxgangs Primary School, but it feels like the meeting was a step in the right direction. In the coming months and years, I will be working with parents to ensure they are not let down again.