Castlebrae Community High School consultation response

The consultation on the proposed closure of Castlebrae Community High School ends today, Friday, 7th December 2012.

The regeneration of Craigmillar is instrinsically linked with the progress of its young people and the need for a local High School, at the heart of the community. In my consultation I have called on the City of Edinburgh Council to withdraw its plans to close the school. The Council must now work with the Scottish Government to ensure that the school stays open while a new one is built, and the local regeneration is completed.

You can read a copy of my submission here:
Castlebrae High Schoo1-FINAL


Press Statement: Castlebrae High School

Sheila Gilmore MP & Kezia Dugdale MSP said:

The Children & Families Committee will be discussing a report on 9th October 2012 which recommends the start of a consultation on the closure of Castlebrae High School. Having read this report we are concerned that it does not provide a fully rounded view of the role of this Community High School in its community or fully reflect its strengths.

We also think that the report does not explain sufficiently the capacity of other schools in the area to cope with the changes required. Capacity is largely looked at in terms of raw numbers, whereas we believe a wider range of issues need to be considered.

If the Committee decides to open a consultation process on 9th October, we would urge any such consultation to cover and consult on the widest range of issues. We are concerned that formal consultations are sometimes too narrow in their scope and are firmly of the view that any consultation regarding the future of Castlebrae should consider the issues outlined below, in addition to those raised directly by the community itself.

We believe that Castlebrae Community High School should not be closed for the following reasons. We cannot support the closure of the school unless and until all the issues below have been addressed in full.

Eight Red Lines for Castlebrae Closure:

Craigmillar Books for Babies
This project is based rent free in the janitor’s house on the school grounds. Their work supporting 650 families in the Craigmillar area from the day their first child is born until they’re 3 years old and is widely recognised as outstanding and has recently been rewarded with 5 year funding from the National Lottery. The closure of Castlebrae would see them homeless. They should therefore be guaranteed a shop front location on, or within the vicinity of Niddrie Mains Road at a peppercorn rent in light of any school closure.

Vocational subjects
This is a real strength of Castlebrae and is currently used by a number of pupils from other schools. If school stayed open could be developed as a centre for excellence for pupils from other schools in east Edinburgh.

For many students at Castlebrae the provision of some vocational content in the school week keeps them engaged in education altogether thus improving their core literacy and numeracy skills. If this vocational provision does not transfer to their new school, with the same space, facilities and teaching resource – these young people will be at serious risk of dropping out. It needs to be recognised that this vocational provision grew organically in the school in recognition of the fact that pupils were very territorial and would not attend leave community to attend college. This will make transition in to a new school environment very challenging.

Family centre
This is not just a “crèche” for those attending adult classes as inferred by the council report but a facility for parents of under 3s. It is also used by a number of carers who are providing day care for children on behalf of the Social Work department. It is only one of two ‘non referred’ facilities in the area. This service would need to be given a new home, with the same range of facilities and services within the area.

Additional Support Needs
It is little wonder that Castlebrae regularly performs poorly in exam performance tables when no less than 44% of the pupils have additional support needs – almost twice the rate of any other school in the city. Should the school close the resources and wrap round support for these students must transfer in full.

Sports Facilities
Current sports facilities are good and considerably better than in some neighbouring schools. In the event of closure a guarantee must be given for the future of the pitches by transfer to a community body providing a permanent changing facility and a power supply for lighting. Furthermore, the students at Castlebrae must be guaranteed the same number of PE hours in the school week at their receiving school. Should that school be Portobello, significant investment in the short term will be necessary as PE provision at Portobello High currently falls far short.

Community Facilities
This is a Community High School providing activities for adults who are encouraged to make use of the facilities of the school. This includes access to a gym and use of the vocational training facilities for things like art, woodwork and cooking classes. These facilities are not available anywhere else and by their nature, could not be easily transferred into ‘Sandy’s (Castleview Community Centre) or the Jack Kane Centre.

And if the School closes…
In the event of closure the annual savings derived from closing the school should be reinvested in the educational opportunities of the young people and wider community of Craigmillar. This must include at the very least, a minimum a mentoring system for students in the transition from school to employment or further training; support for pre-school and primary school pupils to raise attainment.

Whether or not the school closes…
Irrespective of any decision to close, we need a clear commitment from the Council to the building of a new school in Craigmillar. There is a site and a design all ready. This school needs to be reinstated on the list of new schools the Council will build over the next few years. One option for the school could be for a specialist school offering opportunities not available elsewhere. PARC has recommitted itself to keeping the site available. The Council must reaffirm its commitment also.


For more information contact Sheila Gilmore MP on 661 7522 & Kezia Dugdale MSP on 348 6894.


News Release: Sheila Gilmore MP responds to proposed closure of Castlebrae Community High School

Earlier today the City of Edinburgh Council announced plans to consult on the closure of Castlebrae Community High School. I have today discussed these plans with members of the local community who are deeply concerned and shocked by the news.

I have subsequently issued the press release noted below.

Residents, pupils and employees throughout the area have long supported the regeneration plans, but their faith in the process is undoubtedly wearing thin. The Council must now seek to redress local concerns and invest any potential revenue savings in sporting and educational facilities.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (released 11 September 2012 )


Sheila Gilmore, Member of Parliament of Edinburgh East, has responded to the announcement that the City of Edinburgh Council is due to consult on the Closure of Castlebrae Community High School.

Ms Gilmore has called on the Council administration to ensure that plans to build a new school, and complete regeneration in Craigmillar, are treated as a priority.

She said:

‘Over the last ten years residents, pupils and employees in Craigmillar have fully engaged with the local transformation. This shocking news has come as a real blow to local people, and will be a major worry for local families whose children attend the school.

‘I am extremely disappointed that the decision to consult on the closure of Castlebrae has been taken in isolation from the wider regeneration scheme.

‘The strength of the Craigmillar community has carried residents through the transition so far – but their faith in the project is undoubtedly wearing thin.

‘The message from Craigmillar is clear; the Council cannot proceed with these plans unless clear commitments on the next phases of the regeneration process are set out.’

Ms Gilmore has written to the City of Edinburgh Council requesting that revenue savings from the potential closure of the school are retained by the local community. In the event that a decision is taken to close the school, Ms Gilmore has called on the Council to commit to reinvesting the savings into educational and sporting opportunities in Craigmillar.


For details of the reported closure see the Edinburgh Evening News, Tuesday 11th September:


The straw man argument

This is a favourite tactic of the Coalition. ‘Labour got it all wrong’ is their favourite cry. Now this is something all governments do to some extent but the Coalition has raised this to an art. It’s not just political knockabout but has been used to justify many of the huge changes David Cameron is making to our public services.

So education Michael Gove endlessly tells us that Labour’s education record was appalling. Therefore we need to speed up the freeing of schools from local authorities through setting up academies and ‘free’ schools. But on 24th July 2012 in the Independent Michael Wilshire, the head of Ofsted is quoted as saying that schools in London were 50 times worse in the 70s, 80s and 90s and are now in his words ‘hugely better’. So unless you believe there has been a miracle perfomed in the last 2 years maybe Labour did something right after all, even in London which has tended to get some of the greatest criticism.

So too it goes with health. Generally the line here is that despite substantially increased spending ‘things didn’t get better’. Productivty we were told was poor. Running with this line of argument brings the ability to imply that reducing spending doesn’t have an impact. It also is used to justify the wholesale reorganisation of the NHS in England

But if the basic premise is wrong then all this upheaval is unnecessary. The annual British Social Attitudes Survey tells a different story. Satisfaction with the NHS was sitting at 34 per cent in 1997 and rose to 70 % in 2010.

And the decline in productivity argument has also been challenged. In February 2012 the Guardian reported a paper published in the Lancet, in which Nick Black, professor of health services research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that although the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, claimed NHS productivity had fallen 15%, the opposite was almost certainly the case.

The constant suggestion that the NHS ‘isn’t working’ can have other impacts too. A few weeks ago here in Scotland I was in a conversation where someone said ‘with the NHS on its knees why are we letting in so many immigrants to use our services’. While resources are always at a premium in health, not least because of the way in which medicine is always developing and able to do more and we have an ageing population, the NHS is far from being ‘on its knees’ and such exaggeration by politicians does little to assist rational debate on either the NHS or immigration.


Some Vouchers with your Calpol?

Stressed and anxious parents will soon be able to collect £100 worth of ‘parenting class’ vouchers when they visit their local Boots store.

This is apparently one of David Cameron’s ‘big ideas’ for tackling family problems, school discipline and even rioting youth.

It bears some interesting hallmarks of this Government’s approach. Why give out the vouchers in Boots? This may be to make it less threatening, but why not through health visitors or doctors’ surgeries? Unusually for a Government which usually argues that ‘help’ should be concentrated on those most in need, this approach is proposed on the basis that targeting here might stigmatise and put people off seeking help.

I welcome any renewed interest in universalism, but if there are to be no eligibility criteria, is the funding unlimited? If not, is it ‘first come first served’? One commentator has already expressed concern that the opportunity will be taken up by the parenting equivalent of the ‘worried well’ rather than those who really need help.

Then there is the question of who provides these parenting classes. A familiar pattern is already emerging. Charities like the National Childbirth Trust have been mentioned , but also private firms such as ‘BabyGym’. According to one newspaper report this organisation is owned by a friend of the Prime Minister.

We’ve seen the same pattern in other Government initiatives such as ‘welfare to work’ programmes. Often under the umbrella of the argument that such services are better provided by specialists and the ‘voluntary sector’ the work is tendered out. I wouldn’t be surprised in due course to hear that once this is rolled out nationwide (it’s starting as a pilot in 3 areas) large companies like Serco and Ingeus suddenly display an interest in parenting. These private ‘public service’ companies aren’t ‘subject specialists’ in anything but simply ready to put together teams of people to carry out what were traditionally public sector tasks.

Funding for Sure Start Centres, and for Youth Work is shrinking. These vouchers are no substitute!