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Highland Council called on to declare a 'school estate emergency' as the north lags far behind the rest of Scotland

By Scott Maclennan

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Councillor Helen Crawford outside Beauly Primary School. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Councillor Helen Crawford outside Beauly Primary School. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Highland Council will be asked to declare a “school estate emergency” because the north is lagging so far behind the rest of Scotland when it comes to the condition of its education buildings.

The move from Aird and Loch Ness councillor Helen Crawford is due to be discussed at the full council meeting on December 14 – the last of the year – and could rub salt in the wounds of local authority bosses.

The SNP-led political administration has been battered by criticism since it cancelled – or to use its own terminology “deferred” – the building of 10 vital projects in September saying it lacked funding. The last hope of funding was from the Scottish Government’s Learning Estate Improvement Programme (LEIP) but in October the SNP’s education secretary announced the Highlands would not get a penny.

Then earlier this week the PISA scores revealed Scotland’s position in international education rankings with record lows in maths (down by 18 points), reading (down 11 points) and science (down seven points).

Now, Cllr Crawford wants the council to take decisive action to put the condition of Highland schools front and centre so that Holyrood cannot ignore the plight of thousands of pupils and staff across the north.

She has called for:

  • the council to declare “a school estate emergency” and establish an emergency action plan to address the poor state of so many buildings
  • the council leader to write to the First Minister outlining the “urgent need” for more cash to reduce the disparity between Highland schools and the rest of Scotland
  • the cabinet secretary for education to attend the next full council meeting to answer questions from members on funding.

The motion she has put forward is understood to be the first of its kind in Scotland.

Highland Council has the worst schools buildings in Scotland
Highland Council has by far the worst school estate in Scotland. Of 167 primaries just 27 are rated A – good; 84 are considered B – satisfactory; and 56 are graded as C – poor.

That means more than 33 per cent of primaries in the region are considered to be in a “poor” condition. The situation is much the same when it comes to secondary schools.

Of the 29 secondary schools, 10 are considered A – good; eight are considered B – satisfactory; but 11 are rated as C – poor, so more than 37 per cent are “poor”.

A second level of consideration is suitability – how far a school is fit to deliver the curriculum and if the “design and layout enhance its function and use” and can cope with all its demands and services.

Once again the Highlands score low: 26 primaries are considered A – good, 81 B – satisfactory and 60 are C – poor, so 35 per cent are believed to be not good enough for pupils to be taught in.

As for secondary schools: 11 are considered A – good; five are thought to be B – satisfactory while 13 have been rated as C – poor. So almost 45 per cent of secondaries are not suitable to “deliver the curriculum”.

Cllr Crawford said: “Across Scotland the percentage of schools graded A – good for condition and suitability is almost 91 per cent. That’s in sharp contrast to the situation we have here in the Highlands where not even 20 per cent of our schools are graded A – good.

“And, of more concern, according to statistics provided on the Scottish Government’s own website, 10 per cent of secondary schools across Scotland are rated C – poor, in contrast to 37 per cent here in the Highlands.”

She continued: “We know that thousands of our children across the Highlands are spending their school day in buildings that are not fit for purpose and an unacceptable number of teaching and support staff are spending their working life in those buildings too and that must impact negatively upon recruitment and retention of teachers.

“For these reasons, I am calling upon all Highland councillors to support this motion declaring a school estate emergency until we have fixed the problem that is clearly affecting our children’s education.”

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