Friday, 20 December 2013

Six-year-old school is too small

North Ayrshire Council has admitted that a six-year-old school is already too small to accommodate the children within its catchment area.

Stanley Primary in Ardrossan was one of four new schools built using the controversial Public Private Partnership (PPP) method of funding.  In total, the project will cost local taxpayers around £380m – the capital value of the schools, when new, was £80m with the additional £300m representing the cost of maintaining the facilities over 30 years (£10m a year).  PPP has since been discredited as a funding method given the excessive profits made by private companies involved in projects.

Parents of pupils at Stanley have complained for some time that the school was too small, citing as evidence the fact that non-teaching areas of the facility were being used as makeshift classrooms.  Criticisms were also made that the local authority’s previous Labour administration, which embarked on the multi-million-pound PPP project, had failed to factor-in sufficient population growth in the north of Ardrossan, resulting in Stanley becoming too small for purpose within a few years of it opening its doors.

However, in a report for this week’s meeting of North Ayrshire Council’s ruling Cabinet – comprised of councillors from the SNP administration elected in 2012 - Ms Carol Kirk (Corporate Director – Education & Skills) appears to blame the SNP Scottish Government for the fact Stanley has so quickly become too small to house all pupils within its catchment area.  Ms Kirk states that the schools capacity “altered following the introduction of class-size reduction legislation which limited P1 classes to 25 pupils,” adding, “Additionally, within North Ayrshire P2 and P3 classes were capped to 25 pupils wherever possible”.  The Corporate Director said this reduced the capacity of the school to 414 from the figure of 444 when it opened in August 2007.

Ms Kirk’s report for the SNP Cabinet indicates the original school roll of 394 pupils represented 88% of available capacity, which, the official states, “was adequate to allow for predicted movements in pupil numbers over the coming years, based on two factors: (i) the historical trends in school roll movement at the school, and (ii) the available socio-economic data that informed the school roll projection calculations.”

The SNP Scottish Government, first elected in 2007, introduced legislation to reduce class sizes in order to maximise the time teachers could spend with young pupils, which international analysis shows is in the best interests of children and produces improved academic achievement.

According to Ms Kirk, the headteacher at Stanley Primary first raised concerns over “a need to create additional teaching spaces within the school” in the early part of 2012.  The report for this week’s Cabinet also states, “Furthermore, having looked at the local trend in migration from the school nursery to P1, it was likely that even more teaching space would be required from August 2013.”

A Council working group then recommended a two-stage ‘solution’ to create additional teaching space at Stanley: a short-term approach to accommodate the August 2012 P1 intake, and a longer-term initiative to address the school’s overall shortfall in classrooms.

Two ‘general purposes’ rooms were converted to classrooms and ‘discretionary flexibility’ in relation to P2 and P3 class sizes has, according to Ms Kirk’s report, “effectively allowed the accommodation pressures to be managed for the current session”.

However, current roll projections for Stanley show that additional teaching spaces will be required by August 2014 to accommodate the likely intake, and that, once new pupils are in the school, additional classrooms will be required throughout the full seven-year primary education period for the children.

As of September this year, there were 434 pupils attending Stanley Primary, an occupancy rate of 97%.  However, this was only made possible by the ‘discretionary flexibility’ applied to P2 and P3 classes, which means the maximum class size is being exceeded.

Current roll projections for Stanley show 502 pupils could be attending the school by 2018, which would require an extension providing three additional classrooms and a general purpose facility.

In order to address the longer-term shortage of classroom space at the Ardrossan school, Ms Kirk recommends the local authority buys ‘modular accommodation’ at an estimated cost of £110,000 in year-one, which includes installation and maintenance.  There would then be an annual cost to the Council of around £23,000 for the ‘temporary’ accommodation.  As Stanley Primary is part of the Council’s PPP project, the private company that oversees the four schools built and maintained under the £380m contract would have to agree to the proposal.  In addition, the ‘modular accommodation’, although paid for by the Council, would have to be procured through the private PPP contractor.

SNP Cabinet members will also be asked to agree that Council officials should “undertake further work around options for a permanent solution” to the under-provision of classrooms at Stanley Primary School.

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