Concerns expressed over how smaller schools will be reviewed

Concerns have been expressed among elected members at the council over proposals to change the way the region’s smaller schools are reviewed.

Thursday, 11th February 2021, 10:11 am
Greenlaw Primary School

At the recent full council meeting, councillors agreed a recommendation, presented by Lesley Munro, the council’s service director for young people, engagement and inclusion, which sought to “develop a policy on small schools which determines triggers and process to place schools under review”.

The report stated that the region’s learning estate is “not sustainable in its current form”, citing “too many older buildings in relatively poor physical condition”.

Triggers would be set – including a reduction in pupil roll to 50 or below or a change in the number of classes – which could place the school under review.

It’s the trigger point of 50 pupils that worried some councillors, however, as it was at around 20 in the past. There are currently 15 primary schools with rolls of under 50, including in Berwickshire: Channelkirk (31 pupils); Cockburnspath (34); Greenlaw (49); Reston (41); and Westruther (27).

Councillor Helen Laing said: “This report has the potential to be controversial, but I acknowledge the review is at an early stage.”

Councillor Donald Moffat said: “One of the schools in my area which is now under threat is Westruther, and another, right on the borderline, is Greenlaw.

"What really bothers me about this is that if we close a school, the building often goes back to the previous owner.

"If you close a school, you also lose something which keeps a village together.

"I know in Greenlaw, there are people from that community but can’t get houses there so they can send their children to school there.

"We’ve lost Foulden, and we’ve lost Birgham, Whitson, Leitham and Eccles.

"If 50 is going to be a trigger point, it does bring into consideration schools which would otherwise be safe.

"I have concerns about this.”

Lesley Munro said the reviews would not necessarily be about closing schools.

She said: “If we hit one of many trigger points, and the 50 is only one of them, then we would go and look at whether there is anything we can do to support that school to grow or continue.”