Councillors express fears over proposed trigger points for smaller schools

Concerns have been expressed among elected members at the council over proposals to change the way the region’s smaller schools are reviewed.

Thursday, 11th February 2021, 9:05 am
Councillor Anderson said the Newlands Centre, attached to the primary school in Romanno Bridge, is a fine example of a small school becoming a community hub.
Councillor Anderson said the Newlands Centre, attached to the primary school in Romanno Bridge, is a fine example of a small school becoming a community hub.

At the recent full council meeting, councillors agreed a recommendation, presented by Lesley Munro, the council’s service director for young people, engagement and inclusion, which sought to “develop a policy on small schools which determines triggers and process to place schools under review”.

The report stated that the region’s learning estate is “not sustainable in its current form”, citing “too many older buildings in relatively poor physical condition”.

Triggers would be set – including a reduction in pupil roll to 50 or below or a change in the number of classes – which could place the school under review.

It’s the trigger point of 50 pupils that worried some councillors, however, as it was at around 20 in the past. There are currently 15 primary schools with rolls of under 50, including in the Borders: Ancrum (39 pupils); Eddleston (32); Ednam (38); Heriot (23); Kirkhope (21); and Walkerburn (25).

Councillor Heather Anderson said: “My concerns are the key role schools play in communities – however small they are.

"They give a small community a focus and numbers can change over time. Locally, we have seen schools recover from low numbers and become resilient community hubs – just like Newlands down the road from me.”

She added: “For many years there were concerns over the schools future and now we are see a thriving school, a rejuvenated nursery, and a community wing which has played a pivotal role in the community’s response to the Covid lockdown.

"Suddenly having extra space with outdoor access is an asset.

“It is also vital that young children are able to walk or wheel to their local primary school.

"We of course know that many children in the Borders will spend many hours during their educational lives on school buses – but we don’t want to have children being bussed round in their early school years.

“It is vital that we understand the scale of the potential threat to small rural schools and ensure we take steps to increase local resilience.

"We need to be proactive in improving these schools, not reactive in resisting their closure.”

Lesley Munro said the reviews would not necessarily be about closing schools.

She said: “If we hit one of many trigger points, and the 50 is only one of them, then we would go and look at whether there is anything we can do to support that school to grow or continue.”

As well as the 50 pupils, a range of other factors, including travel distance to nearest alternative provision, would also be critical in that review process.

At the meeting, held over Zoom on January 28, councillors agreed that a policy should be developed and brought back for approval at a later date.