Councillors in Hawick are showing a united front in support of calls by a Borders MP and MSP for the town to be the next in the region to get a new high school.
The future of Hawick High School has come into sharp focus in recent months. Aside from problems posed by misbehaviour by some of its 1,000 pupils, there is general consensus that the Buccleuch Road building is no longer fit for purpose.
However, with tight financial constraints guiding the decisions of both local and national government, any case for its replacement must be a persuasive and united one.
Scottish Borders Council launched a review of all educational facilities in the region in September 2016 with a view to determining which of its schools need to be replaced and which should be considered for merger or closure.
Education bosses at the council are known to prefer an intergenerational model of education, such as the £32m campus being built at Jedburgh to cater for youngsters aged two to 18 year olds and also containing community spaces and a library.
In April 2018, the council agreed to draw up individual plans for schools in Galashiels, Hawick, Peebles and Selkirk and officers promised to update councillors on their progress last month.
That update failed to materialise, however, leaving parents and students in the dark about the future of their school.
Borders MP John Lamont and his Holyrood counterpart, Rachael Hamilton, believe Hawick is in greater need of a new secondary school than the other three towns in contention to get one, and they have joined forces to call for it to have one built as a matter of urgency.
They are also calling on councillors in the town to put aside any differences between them to back their campaign, and that’s a message being heeded by members for its two wards.
Mr Lamont, MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, said: “Hawick High has had its fair share of publicity recently, but it is clear that hard-working pupils and staff are being let down by a site simply not fit for purpose.
“That is why I have joined with my colleague Rachael to call on the town’s representatives to come together for the good of the town.
“Galashiels is already the front-runner for a new school because the town and the community is united and has a clear plan.
“Hawick is lucky to have very active local representatives who have already put a lot of work into securing a new school for the town.
“Now is the time for the community and its representatives to come together to focus on delivering for Hawick’s pupils, teachers and parents.
“If we argue amongst ourselves about details, the effect will be that Hawick is put to the back of the queue.”
Fellow Conservative Mrs Hamilton, MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, added: “Making a decision on a site would give pupils, teachers and parents a real boost.
“Other towns in the Borders have been fortunate to benefit from a new teaching and learning environment, and Hawick is clearly in need of investment.
“Political infighting won’t help. Clarity should be provided over such an important issue. This is about giving young people and future generations a place to be proud of.”
Hawick and Hermitage councillor George Turnbull agrees, saying: “Hawick desperately needs a new educational facility, and a robust case can and must be made to ensure that the town is top of the list, but councillors and townsfolk have to decide where any new facility would be best sited.
“It is unlikely that the Scottish Government will finance a replacement high school. It’s more likely to support a multi-functional facility as the emphasis is leading to a property that can be used to the maximum by the community for multi-use activities.”
Fellow ward member Watson McAteer said: “I’m delighted that our local elected UK and Scottish Conservative politicians are throwing their weight and influence behind a new high school.
“I am in incomplete agreement that politics should have no role in deciding the future of our children and, by definition, our town, and the quicker the project is agreed by all the better.
“Hawick High School has seen its fair share of problems, and a new learning campus would go a long way to resolving existing and future problems.”
Davie Paterson, the ward’s other representative, agrees but hit out at Mr Lamont and Mrs Hamilton too, saying: “We, as Hawick councillors, have all been working behind the scenes to make the new high school a reality.
“Instead of some jumped-up Tory politicians just looking for cheap publicity, they should be working with councillors and officials at Holyrood and Newtown St Boswells to make this a reality.
“All of the Hawick councillors are campaigning furiously to get a new high school for Hawick, and the councillors in other wards are shouting for their areas as well.
“I’d like John Lamont to encourage the UK Government to make more money available to the Scottish Government to make this a reality.”
Hawick and Denholm councillor Clair Ramage, a former teacher at Hawick High, says a replacement for her old workplace is long overdue.
She said: “The school leaving age was raised to 16 in 1973, and for Hawick this created overcrowding in the school. Indeed, sometimes three classes would be put together in the assembly hall to alleviate the problem.
“Temporary buildings were put in place, supposedly to last 15 years, but sadly these buildings remain in use now bur are very obviously not fit for purpose.
“Hawick desperately needs a school fit for the 21st century. The town has waited long enough, and no amount of refurbishment will hide the cracks in the old school.
“As a community, we need to get behind this and not allow Hawick to be forgotten yet again.”
Fellow ward councillor Stuart Marshal echoed that call for unity, saying: “I think it’s very important that all politicians, councillors and community leaders join forces to continue the campaign for a new high school.
“Of course, funding for such a project will be a major factor in whether we can deliver it, and it’s great that both our Westminster and Holyrood representatives are throwing their weight behind such an initiative.
“Let’s hope that between them they can come up with much of the finances required.”