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Dundee schools merger still on the table despite consultations being on hold

Controversial plans to merge two Dundee secondary schools are still on the table despite consultations being halted due the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this year Dundee City Council outlined proposals that, if approved, would see Braeview Academy and Craigie High School shut and merge on a new campus on the site of the former St Saviours High School. A new £60 million school would be built on the site, which lies south of Drumgeith Road, and would have capacity for around 1,800 pupils. As of September 2019, Braeview Academy and Craigie High currently had school rolls of 592 and 628 pupils respectively.

Consultations with parents, staff and pupils regarding the proposed merger had begun in February and were due to be completed by the end of March. The children and families services committee were then due to either approve or reject the plans at a meeting on the June 22. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic the consultations were halted indefinitely.

But councillor Stewart Hunter, who is the children and families convener, confirmed that the plans were still on table and the community would get to have their say when restrictions are eased further.

“The Council suspended our consultations in March due to Covid-19. Once it is safe to do so we will resume the consultations and bring a report back to a committee.”

So I’m glad to hear that they are going to put it back out for consultation, in principle it’s the right thing to do.” Councillor Craig Duncan

Speaking about the proposals at the time they were unveiled, Mr Hunter had argued that they would help to form a “community campus in the area, where the education of pupils would benefit from advantages of scale that the current schools cannot offer”.

But the plan had sparked criticism from opposition councillors when it was announced, with Labour councillor Michael Marra labelling the move as “totally unacceptable” and claimed it was a move to “save money.”

Also included in the proposals are plans to expand the catchment area for Grove Academy in Broughty Ferry from August 2024. This would see all pupils who are living in the current Craigiebarns Primary School catchment area and transitioning from primary to secondary school attend Grove, unless they chose to make a request for elsewhere.

Ferry councillor Craig Duncan welcomed the news consultations on the proposals would resume, describing the move as the “right thing to do. With any proposals, you have to try and take people with you and obviously given the Covid-19 pandemic it wasn’t the right time to do a consultation. So I’m glad to hear that they are going to put it back out for consultation, in principle it’s the right thing to do.”

The Lib Dem councillor admitted there may be changes to the proposed date the new school would be built due to ongoing disruption caused by Covid-19.

“Right now, it’s impossible to predict the future and I don’t know if it will be possible to proceed with proposals on the the original time scale,  If they are going to restart the consultation, it’s possible that even if the proposals go forward the time scale might have to change a bit.”

Currently, 40% of secondary school aged pupils in the Craigiebarns Primary School area attend Grove academy. The school currently has a roll of 1,259 pupils, a number which is expected to rise by approximately 6% in the 2024/25 academic year if the proposals are green-lighted.

But despite Michael Marra’s concerns, Councillor Duncan welcomed the plans and believed it was the right thing for the Broughty Ferry community.

“Once it is safe to do so we will resume the consultations and bring a report back to a committee.” Councillor Stewart Hunter

He added: “I’ve had some positive feedback to from parents on the proposals.

“Speaking purely from a Ferry point of view, it’s a logical step in the right direction. To have these kids go to Grove, it makes absolute sense. When this came to committee, my only concern was about the school capacity issues but I was given absolute assurance that this would not present a problem because you can adjust catchment areas elsewhere and all the rest of it.”

According to Dundee City Council, the cost of building the new campus would amount to £60 million and in order for the proposal to be supported, it was outlined that “sufficient capital will be required to be identified and reprioritised” from the council’s capital plan. But earlier this month, council leader John Alexander admitted that the local authority was facing a “serious and immediate financial crisis” as a result of Covid-19. However, the savings from the merger are predicted to be in the region of £78,000 in the 2024/25 financial year before eventually rising to approximately £749,000 in 2027/28. It was also noted in the proposal that these savings would be required to cover the capital borrowing costs to finance the project. Revenue savings would also be needed to to “support capital financing costs.”

 

Article originally appeared on  The Courier

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