When the £21million allocated for a new Kelso High is taken into account, expenditure on the region’s school estate will account for nearly half of all council capital spending.
And maintaining 63 primaries, nine secondaries and more than 40 other buildings which deliver services to nearly 15,000 children and young people represents an annual strain of over £100million on SBC’s limited financial resources.
Along with an acknowledgement that many of these facilities are no longer fit for purpose, councillors agreed this week to authorise the development of a long-term, overarching strategy for the region’s school estate.
And Councillor John Mitchell, SBC’s deputy leader with responsibility for finance, pulled no punches in asserting that the status quo was not an option.
“There is no doubt that some schools, for a variety of reasons, will close and parents, particularly those with a special affinity for their former schools, will have to be educated to accept this.”
Tuesday’s first meeting of the new education-themed executive heard that such a strategy was essential “to provide clarity for all stakeholders over likely investment decisions in the short, medium and longer term [beyond five years]”.
The strategy will “dovetail” with existing capital commitments, including the Kelso High project, the creation of a super primary in central Galashiels and replacement primaries at Langlee and Broomlands in Kelso.
And as with school closures, which require statutory consultation, the strategy will be drawn up after full discussions with parent representatives, head teachers and staff groups, as well as children and young people.
On Tuesday, Councillor Sandy Aitchison, executive member for education, said it was important the strategy took account of any school’s role as a hub within a particularly community.
And Councillor Catriona Bhatia (Tweeddale West) suggested that the strategy should consider replacing the five secondaries – in Hawick, Jedburgh, Peebles, Selkirk and Galashiels – with new-builds to provide uniformity across the region.
Assurances were given that a rolling programme of maintenance of sub-standard buildings would continue, pending the preparation of the strategy.
Councillor Donald Moffat (Mid Berwickshire) took the opportunity to highlight “one or two schools in my ward with windows that won’t close and toilets which are disgusting”.
And Councillor Stuart Bell (Tweeddale East) claimed pupils at St Ronan’s PS in Innerleithen struggled to hear lessons “above the constant noise of whirring storage heaters”.