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Fife to build 'learner' schools

Fife Council is to base its school building plans over the next 20 years on a "learner entitlement".

A new school estate strategy, beginning with secondary schools, was presented to councillors this week. Ian Robertson, senior education manager for resources, reported that, while repairing the fabric of schools was important, it was necessary to avoid the danger of "re-creating schools of the past".

The learner entitlement for secondary schools sets out a series of 12 principles which will be used as an audit tool to decide where investment should go.

These range from accommodation which meets the needs of the curriculum, good internet links, well-lit playgrounds, healthy food and drinking water, indoor and outdoor social areas, space for assemblies and flexible design so post-16 education is possible.

The council will continue its "big is beautiful" policy, with secondary schools of 800 to 1,400 pupils - although it does admit that "there is general agreement that larger schools face greater challenges in providing for the social and emotional needs of pupils".

Fife also plans to change its method of measuring the capacity of schools - currently a calculation based on the total teaching areas available discounted by a 30 per cent factor. This allows schools to operate at 70 per cent of capacity, which is out of line with the national 80 per cent rate.

It will now move to a system, tested at Waid Academy in Anstruther, which takes account of the actual curriculum on offer, along with the number of timetabled periods and classrooms required to deliver it. In practice, only class areas that can take either a full general class of 30 pupils or a practical class of 20 will be used to work out the planning capacity of a school.

The council's report says this will meet the varying needs of schools and be open to scrutiny, as well as being "defendable should there be a need to refuse placing requests on grounds of accommodation constraints".

Meanwhile Fife has a more pressing need - to find a replacement for Jarvis, its preferred bidder, whose financial troubles have led it by "mutual agreement" to pull out of the council's pound;50 million scheme to build 10 new schools under a public private partnership (PPP).

The authority will now reopen negotiations with two previously unsuccessful contenders, Canmore and Emblem, and this is expected to delay the project by six months. It is hoped to use designs for which planning permission has already been obtained.

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