School merger consultation: take part and spread the word – Jo


Jo Swinson MP for East Dunbartonshire is encouraging local residents to take part in the Council’s questionnaire on the primary school improvement programme before the consultation closes on 4th February.  Jo is urging action following a letter she received from the Council stating the importance of community feedback on the proposed changes before they take any decision.

Jo had written to the Council expressing the concerns of parents who feel the review process is ambiguous and presents some school closures as inevitable.

Commenting Jo said:

“I wrote to the Council asking them to clarify the review process, present the options in front of residents – including the status quo – and to lay out the financial information that is the context for potential changes to primary schools.

“Unfortunately the letter doesn’t address those points that I made.  However it does stress the importance of parents and residents taking part in the current consultation, which I wholeheartedly agree with.

“I know from my surgeries, reading the local papers, and the protest two weekends ago that a number of people feel strongly about this issue and I hope that as many local residents as possible feed their thoughts into this informal process.

“The questionnaire can be completed by post, over the phone or online.  Full details can be found here: www.eastdunbarton.gov.uk/primaryimprovement.”

The closing date for responses is Monday 4th February 2013.

There are three ways to complete the questionnaire:

  • By completing this questionnaire and returning it in the Freepost envelope to the independent market research company, IBP Strategy  and Research, Evans Business Centre, Belgrave Street, Bellshill,  Lanarkshire ML4 3NP, who are analysing the results on our behalf.
  • By calling IBP Strategy and Research on 01698 743075 and  arranging a time to complete the questionnaire by phone;


The Council’s response to Jo Swinson is below:

Dear Ms Swinson

PRIMARY SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT PROGRAMME

I thank you for your recent letter regarding the above named issue.

Council officers, during the month of January, have been attending Parent Council meetings and Community Council meetings to answer any questions regarding the informal consultation process.  It is quite clear that parents and residents attending these meetings have clear views about how the Council should proceed.

Everyone is being encouraged to complete a questionnaire in order to express their views.  In many cases, parents have indicated that they would like a new school but it has to be built on the site of their existing school.  Others have highlighted that they have no attachment to their present school building but wish their children to access a new building in order to provide learning environments of the highest quality.  Many other parents want the status quo to remain and are quite happy with the school their children are attending.

With such a wide range of views being expressed early in the process, it will be extremely important that as many parents and residents as possible are encouraged to complete the questionnaire.

As you are aware, no decisions have been made about the proposals listed in the questionnaire.  The Council, in due course, will receive a full report from IBP Strategy and Research on the results of the informal consultation.

This report will greatly assist the Council in deciding the next stage of its primary school improvement programme.

Yours sincerely

John Simmons

JOHN SIMMONS

Director of Community Services

Jo’s letter to East Dunbartonshire Council is below:

Mr John Simmons

Director of Community Services

East Dunbartonshire Council

12 Strathkelvin Place

Kirkintilloch

G66 1TJ

12 December 2012

Dear Mr Simmons,

Primary School Estate Review

Thank you very much for meeting with me last Friday to discuss the Council’s primary school estate review. As we discussed, this is clearly a very difficult situation which has the potential to affect thousands of parents and children throughout East Dunbartonshire. I understand that the Council’s proposals for an informal consultation process to go ahead were agreed at the meeting of the full Council on Monday evening.

Many parents have contacted me to express their disappointment that the review process to date has been ambiguous and without clear choice. As I made clear in our meeting, I do not believe that the proposed consultation document makes the choice facing parents clear enough. It does not set out properly why the Council feels change is necessary and if this is not clear, it seems only natural that parents will be anxious. It also does not make clear that the status quo is an option for the Council. At the moment, the document reads as if school mergers are inevitable and that the consultation is only on how to proceed, not whether to proceed.

From our meeting on Friday, I understand the position to be that given limited capital budgets, for any significant investment in our primary school estate to take place the Council will have to borrow money. To do so, revenue savings would have to be identified to service the cost of borrowing, and that for every £100,000 of revenue savings a sum of £1.5 million could be borrowed for capital investment. I also understand that the Council would unlock further investment from the selling of any vacated sites.

Primary school mergers are clearly one way to secure revenue savings by pooling staffing and building costs. Of course there are significant drawbacks to merging schools too, not least where schools have a strong ethos, history and are much valued local institutions at the heart of a local community.

Another source of funding is a potential £5 million contribution from the Scottish Government in 4 years’ time, but even so this equates to only half the cost of one new primary school, so does not solve the challenge of how to fund investment across all 37 primary schools in East Dunbartonshire.

As I said on Friday, I am concerned that these details are not currently set out clearly in the consultation document to give all interested stakeholders the information and context they need to weigh up the various options.

The decision that must be taken by the Council, in close consultation with parents, staff, pupils and the wider public, seems to be a choice between unlocking significant investment in our primary schools by merging some of them, or continuing with the school estate much as it is now, with minimal investment through existing capital budgets but avoiding the problems identified of school mergers.

It is important through the consultation process that this is a genuine choice being put to the public, and that the Council is equally prepared to adopt either approach, taking into account people’s views.

I feel strongly that the public would appreciate this choice being set out in much clearer terms, along with both choices’ associated consequences, and an assurance that the Council has not prejudged what action it will ultimately take.

This letter places on record my thoughts on the process and I would be grateful if you could give them consideration prior to finalising your next steps.

Many thanks again for meeting with me, and for considering my thoughts.

Yours sincerely,

Jo Swinson MP


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