Falling rolls, outmoded buildings, financial pressures and the mismatch between available school places and demand for school places, have all created a dilemma for educational planners and politicians alike. Glasgow faced the issue almost a decade ago and, after a painful process, reached some reasonable solutions. Until now, Edinburgh has only tinkered with the issue.
Radical proposals are on the table to prune its educational estate. Staff, parents and students at the affected schools have been shocked. Emotions are raw.
In schools where staff have been seeking to develop a culture of successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors (long before these adjectives and nouns were linked), success, confidence and responsibility may be the first casualties. In communities where success, confidence and responsibility are urgent requirements to support social and economic regeneration, the maintenance of a school may be essential to the process.
Many will hope that the consultation process will see the principle of the rational and effective use of schools and other educational resources acknowledged, but will also see the principle of maintaining comprehensive education acknowledged. That requires a recognition that the drift from peripheral estate schools will continue in Edinburgh, even after this exercise, if the new organisation merely mirrors the old.
Schools with catchment areas comprising only areas of poverty and deprivation, however high their new rolls, will find these falling in years to come. Parental drift will recreate the problems faced by the three secondaries facing closure, which includes my own. For rationalisation to work, it requires, as a corollary, a radical redrawing of catchment boundaries.
The tragedy is that the time for a meaningful debate is limited by the fact that, the longer the debate, the more the process of drift will accelerate. Whenever a proposal to close a school becomes public, parents move their child before the end. If the consultation is as long as that proposed, pupil numbers may haemorrhage, closures occur by default and the demoralisation will be protracted.
Whether these two, perhaps contradictory, needs an open, meaningful debate and speedy decisions occur is largely up to the politicians. Our municipal political leaders, more than ever, must exhibit integrity, a commitment to serving the interests of all our children and young people and an abstention from the pursuit of naked party interest.
While we watch and hope that such high standards are demonstrated, teachers will carry on with the job of teaching young people in unsettled contexts, with doubts and uncertainty rife and with their future professional venues unknown. They will do that with customary integrity and commitment. Your tolerance, friendship and support are the least they deserve.
Alex Wood is headteacher of Wester Hailes Education Centre, Edinburgh