Friday, September 12, 2008

It Isn't So Academical

What size is appropriate for a secondary school? Or more important how many pupils should fit into the space?

These are questions perplexing parents in West Lothian at present and particularly those of Linlithgow Academy who held a meeting at the end of last month to look into the planned expansion of the school. This is especially prevalent at the moment with the promise of 2 additional non-denominational secondary schools in the county currently on hold due the credit crunch hitting the building trade and the PFI (or whatever it will be called) to complete these projects.

West Lothian Council's aim is to have:

"Schools which are a haven of excellence, and most importantly places which
inspire our students and staff to achieve the very best that they can."

Although the question is not so much one of population at the level of 1,320, from my Northern Ireland experience off hand I know that both Methodist College with 1,850 secondary level pupils and my own alma mater, Regent House Grammar School with 1,444 are two of the best in the country. But what both schools had even when internal space was limited was space to accommodate such numbers on the grounds.

Linlithgow academy is already bulging at the seams and parents are concerned quite rightly that the current pupil levels of 1,210 let alone an increase can be accommodated without out affecting standards of teaching. This is especially true where specialist facilities labs/technology rooms/home economics/music facilities are taken into account. Having been in a previous job a temporary lab tech back at Regent I knew that some of these facilities tech/home ec/science were catered from in temporary classrooms a long trek from my prep room, down flights of stairs and other obstacles; not ideal I say with my current risk assessor hat on.

This is even more greatly exasperated at Linlithgow Academy because of the lack of the space that we had available at Newtownards. Greater reduction in social space at the school will have to come as a result of fulfilling the needs for academic space. At Regent with two separate periods dedicated to lunch, outwith the dinning hall there was the assembly hall, gym and sports hall all used to accommodate pupils during inclement weather. The outdoor space available would also have been greater than required to fit the current footprint of Linlithgow Academy with room to spare as some of the sports facilities were adjacent to the school unlike at Linlithgow.
So the stressed on the size of Linlithgow Academy and other schools across the area including St. Margarets and Whitburn Academy are liable to be pushed to, if not beyond, over the coming years. While the housing downturn may stop new building, including that of news schools, the children are already there are need educating somewhere.
Something has to be done to provide this is balanced way of not just classrooms but the other facilities involved. Sadly as with other additional housing provision in West Lothian over recent years amenities have been secondary to housing expansion which is why with the downturn in building we can now find ourselves in the awkward squeeze.

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