Monday, 24 September 2012

A rebirth for Fort Primary?

The news that steps are afoot to partially re-open Fort Primary School come as a welcome if not entirely unexpected surprise.
The pressures on surrounding primaries in the Leith area have necessitated this re-think with plans to look at opening a junior years primary. It should be said though that this could have been predicted. When I was local councillor for the Fort area I did warn the education officials and the then Children & Families Convener that pressures on surrounding primaries may lead to this situation. While I had concerns about the ability of Fort Primary to deliver a full curriculum to pupils with the low school roll that it had before closure I was mindful of the pressures not only on the intended receiving school - Trinity Primary but also on other schools in the Trinity cluster - Victoria and Wardie. That is why I argued right up to the decision  to close being taken that there should be a reprieve for Fort. I lost two internal votes at group meetings and abided by the group decision to proceed with closure. I did gain an assurance that as the Fort site would not be demolished or sold off it could be considered for re-opening should circumstances and demand for places  grow.
Indeed nursery provision at Fort has continued as neither Victoria or Trinity Primaries have nurseries attached and the Fort Community Wing has remained open as a community centre. A large part of the Fort campus has also provided much need temporary accommodation for Kaimes Primary Special School  following severe damage to the Kaimes building.
There are obvious benefits to the local communities in the areas of Fort (North Leith), Trinity and Newhaven if this proposal sees a rebirth of Fort Primary. Firstly it relieves very real pressure in early years in surrounding schools. Secondly if it operates as proposed as an early years junior school for the neighbouring schools in particular Trinity and Victoria then it could go a long way to breaking down the very real stigma that was attached to Fort Primary in the latter years of its previous existence. For that to be the case it is important that parents are fully involved in the plans for this new school to work co-operatively with the council to make it a success. Also with housing developments in Newhaven's Western Harbour increasingly attracting families and the redevelopment of the Fort House site right across from the school set to attract families too there is an opportunity for the wider locality to share in the rebirth. This plan in my view  deserves a fair wind and the support of the local community.
At a more strategic level questions need to be asked regarding the methodology used by the Children & Families department in predicting future intakes as from my experience and the experience, I'm sure, of many parents across the city there seems to be a problem that means that pressures are not predicted clearly enough. It is an inexact science given parental right to choose and people moving in and out of areas but there must be a better and more accurate way of planning for future accommodation needs than going through lengthy, painful and costly closure programmes only to rethink them in response to intake pressures so soon after closing a school.

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