This statement sets out the position of the Community Council in relation to the principal aspects of the Review. The Council will now meet with City officers and elected officials on 28 February to discuss the Review and its concerns.
The Council further noted, on 2 February, that the City Council had conducted informal consultations with Balerno High School Parent Council on 22 January and with Dean Park Primary School Parent Council on 29 January. Those meetings were arranged by the City Council in discussion with the Parent Councils, as part of an informal consutation process, with specific regard to the City Council’s initial proposals for secondary education affecting the Water of Leith Valley. In particular those initial proposals suggested that Currie High School and Wester Hailes Education Centre would be closed and amalgamated in a new SW Edinburgh High School on a site yet to be settled. The initial proposals also involved temporary closure of Balerno High School for two years from 2022 allowing for its extension and refurbishment. Currie Primary School would fall within the catchment area for Balerno HS while Ratho PS would transfer to the catchment area of a new West Edinburgh High School. The proposals for Dean Park Primary School included expansion of catchment area to include the Cherry Trees area.
Consultation meetings - At the meeting on 22 January with Balerno HS Parents Council, the City Council announced, without prior notice, that it also wished discussion on two further options relevant in particular to Balerno High School and Dean Park Primary School, namely;
(i) That all schools should be retained on their present sites, refurbishing or rebuilding as required, and, separately,
(ii) that Currie HS and Balerno HS should be amalgamated in a new building on the existing Currie HS site.
The City Council also advanced those two options for discussion at the 29 January meeting at Dean Park Primary School. There was considerable anger and dismay at the City Council’s failure to give prior warning of its desire to have discussions on options beyond the initial proposals and in particular on the second option, involving closure of Balerno High School. It was, unsurprisingly, the unanimous view of both meetings that the second option was totally unacceptable, and that the preferred option was for rebuilding of each of the schools on its present site.
On 2 February the City Council wrote to parents indicating that it was at the half way point in its parental consultation process. It had previously suggested that it would write to all parents clearly identifying and drawing attention to the options as set out above. It is a matter of regret that the letter of 2 February does not, in the Council’s opinion, identify and draw attention to the options referred to; nor does it facilitate easy access to necessary information.
The position of the Community Council on the additional options intimated by the City Council on 22 January is that the option for amalgamation of Currie HS and Balerno HS on the existing Currie HS site is both completely unacceptable in terms of policy and that it is in all probability undeliverable in practice.
Concerns relating to the consultation process - The Community Council regards the failure on the part of the City Council to give adequate notice of its tabling of the options referred to, as at the least discourteous, and in any event as counterproductive, since it effectively nullified any benefits which might otherwise flow from such meetings.
The Community Council is not aware of the details of any consideration by the City Council in development of its initial proposals, which despite the tabling of the other options by the City Council remain the basis for the informal consultation process, so far as the Community Council is concerned.
Since the City Council advanced those initial proposals it must be fair to assume that consideration had been given to implications of those proposals and to other options from which they must have been selected. It might be fair to assume that some options appraisal process had been applied and that some assessment of the impact of different options had also been carried out by the City. The Community Council asked for information in that regard on 19 December, but to date, it has received no information. In particular it has received no information on options appraisals or impact assessments which the City Council may have prepared. In the absence of any response it is regrettably therefore not clear that any such appraisals or assessments were in fact carried out in advance of publication of the initial proposals.
Concern relating to the initial proposals – Balerno Community Council believes that schools, both primary and secondary, are central to the communities they serve. Threats of closure of any school are likely to strike at the heart of their communities, and that is true of all of those schools involved in the current consultation process. It is however particularly true of communities like Currie and Balerno which being semi-rural in character and with limited access to services, may properly be distinguished from communities in a more urban setting. As noted in its letter of 19 December the Council believes that the radical proposals as set out by the City Council in the initial proposals would have serious and far-reaching impacts on the social cohesion and sustainability of the communities of the Upper Water of Leith Valley, and could threaten key social frameworks underpinning the present community of Currie. The threat of dismantling Currie High School and of the distribution of its constituent parts could easily be regarded as social vandalism, impacting not only on the provision of education within the community but on the very viability and long-term well-being of that community and of the Upper Water of Leith Valley as a whole.
Conclusions – There should be no room for any doubt that Balerno Community Council is seriously concerned about the range of impacts which are already flowing, and may flow in future from the Schools Review. The fact of a Review taking place is unsettling, and while that may be at least in part unavoidable, it behoves the City Council to recognise that and to endeavour to assuage concerns. Instead the City Council may, by its conduct of the informal consultation process, have intensified those concerns. We are sure that that would be a matter of concern also to the City Council.
It is acutely important that any Review process has the confidence of the communities affected. A critical aspect of securing that confidence is an open and clear process, in which the agenda and issues are clear, dialogue is encouraged and reasons and justifications for proposals are transparent. In this case the potential implications for Balerno have been altered drastically by the City Council in the course of the informal consultation without any notice having been given, without any apology being offered and without any colourable reasons being advanced. So far as the Community Council is aware the option for closure of Balerno HS derives simply from a response received by the City Council to the consultation; if that is correct then by definition the City Council may well be unlikely to be able to offer any information or assessment on its impact or implications. But in such circumstances a decision to lend credence to the suggestion by tabling it on 22 January, is worrying. Alternatively, the option may have been considered already and dismissed by the City Council in any options appraisal process which may have preceded the initial proposals. If so, then the community is entitled to have been so advised.
The effect of the City Council’s actions to date is to have potentially damaged the essential trust between the community and the City Council.
While the Council appreciates that issues facing the City Council may be complex, it has serious doubts as to whether the Schools Review process was fully thought out by the City Council in advance of its launch in November. While it is to be hoped that confidence in the process can be restored, that is likely to require clarification by the City Council, in particular that the issues under consideration are those in its initial proposals.
Balerno Community Council’s concerns go beyond the community of Balerno to cover the whole area affected by the proposals. It believes the initial proposals in relation to closure of Currie HS and WHEC as put are neither realistic nor likely to be acceptable to any of the communities involved. In its view the option in relation to closure of Balerno HS is absolutely unacceptable. It believes also that both the manner of its introduction into the process as even only a possible option for discussion, and the substance of the option itself are unhelpful in the pursuit of a proper resolution of the overall issues.