A belated PR exercise is in full swing this morning to assure parents that everything is being done to accommodate their children, following the forced closure of 17 PFI built schools in Edinburgh. Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide education for all pupils, aged 5-15 years, within their boundaries. Andrew Kerr, Edinburgh Council Chief Executive, was interviewed on radio this morning and attempted to re-assure parents that they were on top of the problem but it was a vain exercise. Angela Constance , Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education , has indicated the concern of the Government and how it hoped to help by making space available in its buildings within the City. However, they both realise that practical solutions are extremely challenging. Putting a roof over the children’s head in any available space is far from the answer and will not satisfy pupils, their parents or teaching staff.
Schools today are busy places throughout the whole year and I know, as a former headteacher, that this term is a particularly frenetic one; final examinations take place; course work, much of it computer based, will be collated and forwarded to the examination board; work, using the IT system, will continue on next year’s timetable; transfer and reception of a new cohort of pupils will be arranged; many educational outings will have been already planned; requisitioned resources for the new session will be delivered and require storage; the list goes on. Schools will have established strategies to cope with all of that but they will not have allowed for the collapse of the building because the builders and Edinburgh Schools’ Partnership neglected to make them secure in the first instance.
The logistical issues will be a nightmare for staff in the education department. Schools are built to provide for communities where many children can make their way safely to and from school. Dispersing children across vacant spaces throughout the city will not suffice. As in all facets of life today, information technology and computer systems are essential to the smooth management of schools and are a key curricular tool. For an indefinite period , education in Edinburgh for the affected establishments will require to be delivered without the basic structures to function.
Many parents will have taken time off work to be with their families over the Easter holiday period and now they have been given very short notice to make childcare arrangements. The costs of that provision are very high nationally but rise steeply in the Edinburgh area. Two of the schools, caught up in the catastrophe, cater for the needs of children who require additional support. These are vulnerable learners whose needs are very specific and which an ad hoc arrangement is unlikely to meet, although the Council has promised to prioritise them along with those pupils who are sitting Highers in a few weeks time.
There are clear implications for the Edinburgh economy ; initially the price is being paid by pupils, parents , teachers and all education staff. Initial reports appear to indicate that jerry building has occurred; if so, it is a case of outrageous greed on a contract with a guaranteed 900% profit.
Edinburgh Schools’ Partnership must pick up the whole tab, even if court action is required to force compliance.