Less means more
Writing in his regular TESS column this week, Michael Russell, the Scottish National Party's former education spokesman, accuses councils of "arrogance and a certainty that a local authority knows best". He says cash-strapped councils have "swallowed hook, line and sinker the misguided views of the Accounts Commission" to justify closing under-used buildings.
Mr Russell's ire was sparked by a good practice guide on "school estates management", issued by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which he described as "self-serving and mealy-mouthed". It declares firmly "keep doing it", adding: "School estates management planning has to be ongoing and all stakeholders must get used to the idea that things do have to keep changing. Tough decisions that are supported by strong evidence need to be taken on an ongoing basis or schools will suffer from under-investment."
Aberdeen education officials have taken the Accounts Commission to task for the pressure it is putting on councils to reduce under-used schools. The commission considers that 10 of the city's primary schools are not being "properly managed", because they are less than 40 per cent full.
In a report to the council's education committee this week, officials say that "setting targets for occupancy is not an appropriate strategy to be deployed in capacity management of schools". Occupancy levels of 61-100 per cent, regarded by the Accounts Commission as "good", is a wide band. While a fully-occupied school may be the financial optimum, it may not be the educational optimum. A school which is full may have little spare space and large classes.
Aberdeen has discovered that the three councils with the highest percentages of primary schools in the top occupancy band in 2003-04 had among the worst 5-14 results for P7 pupils. And the council with the lowest percentage of primaries with 61-100 per cent occupancy had the third best attainment figures in P7.