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Five Options to Combat Surging School Rolls

Last week, Midlothian Council held the first of two pre-consultation events analysing the options available to combat surging school rolls in the west of the county.

Community leaders, councillors, staff and the general public gathered at Loanhead’s St Margaret’s Primary School on Wednesday 14 September to hear how the local authority planned to shake up secondary schooling in the A701 corridor.

In, what was the first of two pre-consultation events, officials spoke of the need to reassess the three high schools in the region: Beeslack Community High School, Penicuik High School and Lasswade Community High School. The reassessment comes on the back of the release of new school roll projections detailing how all three buildings could be significantly over capacity by 2040. Though it is acknowledged that Beeslack’s roll will continue to fall into the next decade, due to delays in house building in the area, the council believes that within the school career of any primary ones starting in 2016, there could be a shortage in high school places, unless something is done to increase capacity.

Statistics from Midlothian Council
Statistics from Midlothian Council

Five solutions have been drawn up for the public to consider: one for the status quo and the other four for alterations, extensions and new builds.

Option one is for the status quo. All schools would remain where they are and the catchments would go unchanged. Under this proposal Beeslack would have 1070 pupils (124% capacity), Penicuik HS 1073 pupils (114%) and Lasswade 2267 pupils (153%), though officials believe this could be too conservative and the actual roll could be much nearer 2500 by 2040. As Lasswade is already over capacity, it would be prioritised for an extension perhaps as early as 2018. Both Penicuik high schools would also be extended and refurbished, Beeslack by around ten classrooms and Penicuik only marginally. However it is noted that work would have to be undertaken with pupils on site, possibly leading to the erection of temporary classrooms, a la Penicuik High in the 1970’s.

Option two would see Loanhead moved from Lasswade High School’s catchment into Beeslack’s. At the moment it is already possible to go to Beeslack instead of Lasswade but transport is not provided free of charge by the council, as it is seen as being out of catchment. Under this option the council would likely be obligated to foot the bill. Lasswade would still require an extension, though not as soon as option one, as would Penicuik High School. Beeslack would either have to be doubled in size or replaced completely on the available land at the campus. Rolls would be 1530 at Beeslack (178%), 1809 at Lasswade (122%) and 1073 at Penicuik (114%). At the Loanhead meeting, there was considerable resentment to this option compared to the others.

The third option is to create an entirely new secondary school to serve Loanhead, Bilston, Roslin and Glencorse further up the A701. Work is ongoing to identify sites, though the council revealed they had identified one site north of Gowkley Moss roundabout to the west of Roslin. This is currently under council ownership but is located in protected greenbelt land. The new school could be built whilst pupils continued to attend the current schools. Beeslack would eventually close and the twelve acre site sold off for housing. Penicuik High School would extended to serve the entirety of the town and pupils could perhaps decant to Beeslack for a time to facilitate this. Rolls would be 1215 at the new A701 high school, 1809 at Lasswade and 1387 at Penicuik (147%). Plans are at an early stage but Midlothian Council has discussed the possibility of linking a new A701 school with Edinburgh University’s Easter Bush campus.

Option four is for a so called super school to serve the entirety of the A701 corridor and Penicuik. It would likely be located on the land available at Beeslack currently and would serve 2601 pupils. It would be the largest school building in the country. It is widely acknowledged that a school above 1800 pupils would not be in the best interests of the pupils. Logistically it may also prove difficult to transport the thousands of pupils to and from the campus. What would happen to Penicuik High School is unknown, a question perhaps to be posed at the upcoming Penicuik meeting. Would it be sold of housing? Perhaps even demolished? Rolls would be 2601 for a combined Beeslack and Penicuik school and 1809 for Lasswade.

The fifth and final option being proposed is a variation on option four but with Loanhead remaining in the Lasswade catchment. Lasswade would have to be extended and would exceed the maximum site capacity of 2000 pupils. It is possible, but land for recreation etc. would be impacted. Again Penicuik and Beeslack would merge into one campus, likely at Beeslack. Rolls would be 2143 for combined Penicuik and Beeslack and 2267 for Lasswade.

It was stressed repeatedly throughout the meeting that Midlothian Council is yet to choose a preferred option, perhaps after their failure to convince the public in 2011 that their favoured option to merge Beeslack and Penicuik High Schools on a split site campus was best.

Once the second pre-consultation event has been held at 7pm in Penicuik Town Hall on Tuesday 20 September, the council will consider all feedback before choosing an option to take forward into statutory consultation next year. The council doesn’t have long to move forward with proposals, considering the ever growing roll at Lasswade. Ideally they would like to get an extension to Lasswade under construction by 2018, however first they must know whether it is to be for a few hundred pupils or a thousand. Officials admitted that should the situation reach critical mass at Lasswade before it can be extended, intake of new pupils would focus on its immediate surroundings with Loanhead likely being sent to Beeslack instead.

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