Shared campus awaits blessing
A moratorium on the building of shared campus schools in North Lanarkshire has been lifted, following discussions between the council and the Catholic Church's Motherwell diocese - but the potential for conflict remains.
Proposals by the council to situate a denominational and non-denominational primary on the same campus in Airdrie have not yet won the backing of the diocese. It wants to discuss other "viable options", rather than give an automatic green light to the replacement of Alexandra Primary and Rochsolloch Primary on a shared campus.
The moratorium on shared campus arrangements was put in place in 2004, which meant that the consultation on plans for a shared campus for the two primaries was put on hold. It was lifted following the publication of a final evaluation report on shared campus schools in North Lanarkshire, produced by Dan Sweeney, a former senior official in the council's education department.
The report largely endorsed the shared campus model and found that, in particular, "the autonomy of the individual schools, including ethos and educational principles, has been maintained, and the implementation of the Catholic Education Commission Charter has not been affected".
Both the council and the diocese of Motherwell accepted that the partnership between the adjoining schools had been beneficial and the management of shared facilities had been satisfactory. Nevertheless, the diocese wants pupil roll to be the main criterion for deciding whether a shared campus arrangement is appropriate and argues that larger schools should be free-standing.
The council wants a broader perspective to be adopted, taking into account funding availability, best-value considerations, site availability, the condition and size of schools in the vicinity and "the potential for rationalising services into multi-functional campuses".
Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said: "The diocese has recognised that a number of developments have taken place which have been positive. But the lifting of the moratorium is not the same as the diocese agreeing to any future proposals."
Mr Sweeney's report revealed that the main criticisms of shared campus schools from pupils, teachers and parents focused not on denominational issues but on aspects of their design - such as the limited range of break-out spaces, cramped dining halls, semi-open plan classrooms and traffic congestion in certain areas at busy periods.
The report stated: "Inadequate provision of general-purpose areas, rather than the presence of another school on the campus, was associated with a lack of flexibility and spontaneity in teaching and learning."
Headteachers reported that their management role in a shared campus context was more complex than in a single school. Nevertheless, relationships between staff and pupils of shared campus schools appeared for the most part to be positive. "Issues of a denominational nature (were) rare," the report added.
Among its recommendations were that headteachers should work together to create a "shared vision" for joint campuses, that there should be cross-campus meetings of senior staff, that headteachers should be better supported and that improvements should be made in the design of the schools.