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Secondary School Changes Move Forward

A formal public consultation into West Midlothian’s secondary school estate will be launched later this year, after councillors green lighted the move in December.

The future of Penicuik’s two secondary schools has been thrown into fresh doubt with the announcement that the local authority is to pursue the creation of a “replacement Beeslack CHS” within the locality of Loanhead, Roslin and Bilston.

Following a series of informal public consultation events last year, in which officials proposed five “solutions” to the county’s variable secondary school rolls, it has been decided that the council will continue investigations into relocating one of the town’s secondary schools further up the A701. Responses gathered during the events showed this to be the most favourable option, compared to the status quo or creating a so-called “super school” in which Beeslack Community High School and Penicuik High School would be amalgamated on a single site.

Parents in Loanhead have long faced the decision to either send their children to their catchment high school in Lasswade, which is at capacity, or alternatively send them south – into Penicuik – to Beeslack CHS. The latter requires parents to fund their child’s transportation costs.

With school rolls set to come under pressure from increased house building in the next two decades, and with both of Penicuik’s secondary schools deteriorating in condition, Midlothian Council will move into formal consultation aiming to replace both buildings. Under favoured proposals, a new school building will be constructed near Roslin to cater for pupils originating from Damhead, Loanhead, Roslin and Bilston (approx 1000 roll). Additionally one of the secondary schools in Penicuik will be extended or replaced, the other closed. No decision has been made as to which will go, though the building fabric of the older Penicuik High School is considerably worse than its contemporary.

Council officials presented a report to cabinet detailing the progress made to date and the next steps. The report revealed how two potential sites for the new “A701 Corridor” secondary school had been identified. One is immediately north of Gowkley Moss Roundabout and the other has been chosen through informal conversation with the University of Edinburgh, in their Easter Bush campus. This second site would tie into the council’s proposed creation of the new school as a “Centre of Excellence in Science”. Here, it is hoped students would be able to utilise the University’s vast scientific knowledge base and expanding facilities. However, it is noted that only informal talks have been held to date, raising questions over the deliverability of such a scheme.

To allow the search to continue into potential sites, officials will not return to cabinet for further comment until after summer recess in September; the delay will also coincide with the May council elections. A formal consultation with all affected parties would follow, subject to the administration’s approval.

It is hoped that Midlothian Council could apply to the Scottish Government for “Schools for the Future” funding in 2018. The new A701 corridor secondary could open in 2020 but Penicuik would have to wait for a later round of funding and may not receive a fit for purpose building until 2025.

At the meeting Councillor Bob Constable (SNP) said that it was “important to relieve pressure on Lasswade [CHS]”. His comments relate to the new Lasswade High School’s surging roll and capacity problems, caused by rapid housing development at Bonnyrigg. The building is at capacity and increasingly pupils from Loanhead are being required to travel into Penicuik as a solution.

In response to these issues, from August 2017, Midlothian Council will fund the transportation costs of Loanhead based first years who travel to Beeslack instead of Lasswade. The funding will not apply to any current students, only those starting secondary school in the 2017/18 academic year.

Councillor Adam Montgomery (LAB), who joined the majority of the community in opposing plans to merge Beeslack and Penicuik High Schools in 2012, made it clear for the record that he was against the favoured new A701 corridor solution due to concerns relating to the future of Penicuik’s secondary schools.

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