The closures of three Borders schools were confirmed this week, and more are set to follow now a radical overhaul of education provision in the region has got under way.
Further decisions on primary school closures and amalgamations are expected over the next two years as Scottish Borders Council’s entire school estate, serving nearly 16,000 pupils, comes under scrutiny.
“There is a consensus that we can reduce the number of schools based on school roll figures and projections,” said Donna Manson, the council’s service director for children and young people, in a report to the authority’s executive on Tuesday.
“There is a clear message that the council must take action to ensure the resources we have in these challenging fiscal times are used wisely and efficiently.
“Stakeholders have identified that we need to rationalise the school estate of nine secondaries and 60 primaries and reduce the number of schools in order to achieve best value for the resources we have.”
The three schools being closed are Eccles/Leitholm in Berwickshire, Ettrick Primary and Hobkirk Primary, near Bonchester Bridge.
All three had already been mothballed, but the executive has now agreed to invoke statutory consultation measures prior to their permanent closure.
Pre-consultation meetings were held in March at the region’s secondary schools, each with its own cluster of feeder primaries, and stakeholders were given facts and figures about schools rolls, the condition and capacity of buildings and the cost per pupil in each catchment area.
Based on feedback from those meetings, the clusters around Jedburgh Grammar, Hawick High, Galashiels Academy and Eyemouth High have been prioritised for consideration during the first part of the review, starting this month and lasting up to a year.
“This will allow a more focused engagement with key stakeholders and act as a preparation for any relevant formal proposals that may be brought forward,” said Ms Manson.
All school closures must undergo a process of statutory consultation and require the ultimate sanction of the Scottish Government.
Ms Manson said the highest level of engagement had been seen in Jedburgh.
Some 240 parents, carers and pupils there had responded to a council questionnaire, the meeting heard.
“The school communities are asking this council to further engage on the future of education provision, expressing concern about the condition of, and lack of investment in, their school buildings, the quality of their facilities and the challenge of sustaining a broad curriculum,” she said.
She said the quality of buildings and their impact on learning were also key concerns for Galashiels Academy and its cluster of 10 primary schools.
“There was a recognition that the future of education could look very different and that catchments need to be reviewed,” she added.
Councillors endorsed a simultaneous review of the region’s four Roman Catholic schools in Hawick, Selkirk, Peebles and Galashiels, all of which are running under capacity and have difficulties recruiting teaching staff.