Back to School

The summer holidays have come to an end; hair is cut, bags are packed and bedtime battles once again ensue.  The family holiday was a few days in Fife, an area of the country that I had not visited for many years and a welcome change of scenery.  The children delighted in fruit farms and go carts, horse riding and play parks whilst I marvelled at the lack of travel time needed between towns.  When you are used to travelling several hours to the nearest city, 15 minutes commute from one large town to another takes a bit of getting used to and we were spoilt for choice with all the activities on offer that are not available close to home.

The office of Stephen Gethins MP was on our daily route and we soon found other constituency offices in what seemed to be every town – a sight which is still strange but gladdens the soul.  It still feels incredible that you can practically travel the entire length and breadth of the country and have both Holyrood and Westminster SNP representation.

As always, the six weeks passed ever quicker than before and the new term beckoned.  My three returned to a 3 month old school built to replace the two Primaries located on the north side of Wick River.  Although not without issues, there is no denying the magnificent building now enjoyed by the students of the old schools and the start of this term sees both Wick North and Hillhead amalgamate officially into Noss.  Across the river, the doors have shut on Wick South and her pupils have moved into Pulteneytown Academy where they will study together as Newton Park before moving into their new build later in the year.  At that time, Wick High School, Wick Swimming Pool and Wick Library will bow out and together with Newton Park Primary, their replacements will open as a 3-18 community campus; an educational establishment which is the first of its kind within the Highlands.

The new build at Noss highlighted deterioration of the old schools which you had not noticed as well as the known problems that had impacted on a continuous education in the past but also threw up issues where new was not necessarily better.  Large classroom square footage and swathes of open playground were now replaced with “minimum standard” and combining two schools into a built up area with an already difficult traffic management problem has compounded a situation where there does not appear to be a solution.  With the local authority tightening its purse strings due to an overstretched budget, state of the art equipment is no longer part of the plan and resources are ever thinner yet the disparity between what the children of Wick will be taught in compared to their peers elsewhere in the county is striking.

Across Scotland, schools are being rebuilt or refurbished as part of the Scottish Governments Schools for  the Future programme which works in partnership with local authorities, an investment of £1.8billion.  Originally planned for 55 showcase schools, the near decade old programme will have achieved 112 by the end of the final phase in 2020.  There does seem to be a one size fits all approach however with a similar design being used no matter where in the country they will be built and you can’t help but wonder to the longevity of the buildings comparing them, perhaps unfairly, to the buildings of your own education which were falling into a state of disrepair when 20 years earlier they had been announced as the futuristic answer to the educational needs of the time.  For now though, vaulted ceilings, glass frontages and secure premises allow children and staff alike the opportunity to work in light, spacious and calming environments and the pupils, without fail, have fallen in love with their new school.

The Scottish Government continue to focus on improving educational benefit and have stated that the monies raised from next years council tax reform will be allocated directly to schools to be spent by headteachers on the needs that they deem most pressing.  The launch of the Scottish Attainment Challenge will also ensure that funding is allocated to those schools in deprived areas which are in the greatest need of increased investment to allow all children in Scotland to achieve their dreams and aspirations regardless of their start in life.

Worth over £180 million over 4 years, this fund has the potential to change lives and along with dedicated and caring school staff, getting it right for every child has never seemed more achievable.

1 Comment

  1. Maureen Forbes’s reference to ‘monies raised from next years council tax reform’ reminded me of my letter to the Editor of The National which was published on 11th April this year. It read as follows:
    John Swinney speaks of SNP council tax reforms generating £100m each year (The National April 8, p.2). That would be a huge step towards rectifying current inequities for which the Government will deserve full praise. However his intention to invest this money in “our schools” is a matter of concern to me.
    What I would urge any Cabinet Secretary for Finance to consider carefully is a much neglected side of youth education namely, the profound impact of Youth Clubs throughout Scotland. These havens from home and school are of the utmost importance to thousands of young people. For them – the Club is the Hub! It is there that their meaningful achievements and aspirations have the support of wonderful Youth Workers just at a time when the forces of nature can impose troublesome turbulence the like of which we adults tend to forget.
    If a generous percentage of the £100m pa were to be channelled into bodies like Youth Scotland for the core costs of a Youth Worker’s wage and premises rent, I believe most council tax payers would be very understanding. They may also discover that recent research shows that society benefits by £7 for every £1 spent on youth work. Now there’s a brilliant bang for the buck!
    David Ashford, Lochalsh Youth Community Trust.

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