The May 2019 “Education, Children and Families Committee” will consider a report entitled “Item 7.2 – Future Statutory Consultation Requirements” which sets out the need to consults on a number a key school projects in our capital – Replacement of Newcraighall Primary School; New Maybury Primary School; Edinburgh Park catchment review; New Builyeon Road Primary School; and, Kirkliston (future primary and secondary provision).
The report also, however, touches on rising secondary school rolls:
“The schools where options exist to address capacity pressures through statutory
consultations are Broughton High School, Firrhill High School and Craigmount High
School. The School Estate Planning Team will begin an engagement process with
these schools and if statutory consultations are required, draft papers will be
presented to a future Committee for consideration. “
Of key interest to me here is inclusion of Firrhill High School as it serves a large part of my ward.
Firrhill has a notional capacity of 1150, but currently has 1180 pupils enrolled and will rise to 1222 next year. Potentially a review of Firrhill’s catchment could conclude transferring one of the feeder primaries to another high school catchment would solve the problem.
The options for a transfer, however, are limited and we know from last year that school communities don’t always embrace attempts to tinker with catchments.
The elephant in the room with the Firrhill roll is Redford Barracks. This facility is scheduled to close in 2022 and it is likely at least some of the site will be redeveloped as housing over the following decade (on average every 100 houses generates 23 secondary school pupils). It’s therefore right to look seriously at Firrhill’s capacity.
Data published by the Council suggests that WHEC, Forrester & Tynecastle all have spare capacity to take part of Firrhill’s catchment. Forrester must be excluded, however, as future development in its catchment will consume much of its spare capacity. Nonetheless, by 2028 WHEC and Tynecastle combined will have spare capacity of 535. Indeed, Tynecastle or WHEC alone could easily accommodate Longstone pupils to help Firrhill return to its notional limit until the Redford development comes online.
Running in parallel to this Boroughmuir – a new school that was full the day it opened which now has an extension planned which will also be full the day it opens. Again, Tynecastle could take the pressure off Boroughmuir after its extension opens.
Using Tynecastle or WHEC in this way may not be popular, but it will save the Council money and help it meet its climate change targets (construction consumes a lot of energy). However, that may be balanced by increased travel costs and road safety issues.
The big uncertainty remains Redford Barracks – this may prove to be the catalyst for real change. There are only two real options to deal with this as far as I can see:
- The creation of a new school to accommodate Buckstone, Pentland & Oxgangs Primaries. This would leave the existing Firrhill building to accommodate Colinton PS, Bonaly PS, Longstone PS & Redford Barracks. This would solve the problem at both Firrhill & Boroughmuir.
- Converting Firrhill to a “super school” to accommodate Redford Barracks in addition to the existing catchment (and perhaps even Buckstone PS).
Again, these options would not be universally popular and both would need significant space (and funding). If only a building was nearby with a listed parade ground which could be converted to a fantastic school…
I don’t have one. Whatever happens next, it is important that school communities are consulted and we have to respect the fact that school catchments have evolved over time to become an important part of what defines our neighbourhoods.