The Proposed Closure of Menzieshill High School : Speech at Education Committee

 2 December 2014

 

Laurie Bidwell's speech at Dundee City Council's Education Committee meeting ( 24th. December 2014 ) regarding the proposed closure of Menzieshill High School as part of the School Estate Review brought forward by Director of Education with the support of the SNP group of Councillors. 

Convener, (the SNP's Education Convener, Councillor Stewart Hunter) this report of the School Estate Review, has the structure of a playground joke.

You have good news and bad news for parents and carers in Dundee.

The good news is that the Council is proposing to build a new shared campus primary school in Whitfield combining under one roof St Luke's and St Matthew's RC Primary School, St Vincent's Primary School and Longhaugh Primary School.

The bad news is that the Council is proposing to close Menzieshill High School and gamble that it has enough secondary school places for children in the combined area covering Lochee and the West End.

In my opinion, beginning the process of closing any school is a very serious business.

As it says it in the marriage ceremony, 'it is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly'.

Closing a secondary school which stands at the heart of its community as a school and recreation centre out of school hours must be a last resort and must be only when all the alternative strategies have been explored and rejected. 

This sentiment is contained in the Scottish Government Guidance on School Closures contained in Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 Statutory Guidance issued on 1 August 2014.

In this case I am surprised and disappointed that you have been prepared to bring such a flimsy report to the committee and dismiss the achievements of pupils and teachers with such minimal written evidence.
 

So as I have said, I don't think the parents, carers, pupils and the teachers of Menzieshill High School are well served if we rely on one short paragraph and table showing comparative school roll 2008/9 - 2014/15 to begin the process of closing a school.

All the report reveals is that the school roll has gone down by 10 pupils in the last year and 57 pupils in the last four years.

That's the sum total of the evidence brought forward to support closure of a secondary school.

In fact when you (Education Convener Councillor Stewart Hunter) went to the press about this you provided some reference to additional evidence which you apparently have been privy to which led you to say - as quoted in the Council's official Press Release dated Friday 13 November:

“This is not an easy option to bring forward, but the situation shows no sign of improving and this will only hinder the education of pupils.

“It would be for the educational benefit of young people to attend Harris Academy in the future.

“If pupils go to the new build Harris Academy they will be offered the full curriculum.

"This is not the case at Menzieshill High at the moment because of the implications of such a small pupil roll."

So apparently the school estate issue has knock on effects to the breadth of curriculum on offer at Menzieshill High School but there is no mention of this in the report we have in front of us tonight.
 


This admission on your part also raises another important question.

If Menzieshill High School cannot deliver a satisfactory breadth of curriculum, how is that any different from 2012/13 when it had just ten fewer pupils?

If we accept your conjecture that the school is not delivering an adequate curriculum on your watch, why have you waited to bring this forward as an issue?

There must be suspicion about why you delayed making this decision public until the later Autumn, after the Referendum.

Importantly the Director of Education did not refer to the curricular shortcomings of small schools in his last annual Standards and Quality Report.

Convener, you are also quoted in that same Council press release as saying:

“Education officials work closely with officers from the city development department to carefully consider demographic trends and planning considerations.

“Numbers of pupils will not rise enough at the associated primary schools to offer an significant increase to the Menzieshill High intake.

"I can also confirm that the secondary school identified for the Western Gateway is Baldragon Academy, so that development will have no impact on the roll."

There is no sign of these population projections in the report we have in front of us tonight.

More worrying is that later on tonight, in the subsequent meeting of the Social Work and Health Committee, the Review of the Social Work Department Service Plan 2012-14 includes population projections for Dundee to 2032.

These show that the under 15 population is projected to increase by 20% over the twenty year period to 2032.

What difference will that significant growth in this age group make to the projected rolls of our primary and secondary schools in the city?

We need to know what cognisance has been taken of these trends in the Education Department and whether a move to six non denominational secondary schools down form seven would have sufficient capacity for the expanded demand for places.

More specifically, in the context of the proposed joint catchment area for Menzieshill and Harris, can we say with confidence that all pupils living in the catchment area will be able to gain a place at the combined school?

I am sure that parents and carers living in the current catchment area of Harris Academy will want to know the effects of current and future cohorts of Menzieshill High School pupils being shoe-horned into their new school, will have on access to school places at the school and the quality of education.

Finally, Audit Scotland have criticised councils in Scotland in general and this council in particular for the absence of robust options appraisals when making important decisions.

There is no options appraisal and apparently a quite Thatcherite

There is No Alternative (TINA) response from the Director and the Administration of the Council.

This report is therefore an inadequate response.

We should also examine the catchment area for the western gateway.

Indisputably Menzieshill High School is closest geographically to the western gateway area and it is in my opinion it is the mark of a geographically challenged person to claim the this expansion area should continue to fall in the nominal catchment area of Ardler Primary School and Baldragon Academy.

When you, Convener, confirmed that this was the case in the press release it was as though you were slamming the door shut on any initiative to support enlarging the potential roll of Menzieshill High School.

In the belief that it would be totally wrong to initiate the closure of Menzieshill High School on the basis of single paragraph and a single table of historic pupil numbers in a report reviewing the school estate in the city, in a report that clearly identifies that the targeted school for closure is assessed as being in superior physical condition to two other secondary schools in the city, in the absence of any educational case for closure, and in the absence of an options appraisal, the following amendment is proposed:

2. Recommendations

ii First Bullet Point
Delete 
"the closure of Menzieshill High School (including the delineation of its existing catchment area within Dundee) to the new Harris Academy, and"

B

Insert
ii Third Bullet Point
"Invites the Director of Education to return to the Education Committee with a comprehensive report about the future of secondary Education at Menzieshill High School containing:
the projected rolls of primary schools in respectively the Menzieshill and Harris catchment areas;
an assessment of the impact of re-delineating the western gateway area from the catchment area of Ardler Primary School/Baldragon Academy to Camperdown Primary School/Menzieshill High School and an education, pupil-focused, options appraisal about the future of Menzieshill High School.

This motion was defeated by all the SNP Councillors voting against it in a block.

 

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