Home   News   Article

Councillors set for Highland 'school estate emergency' showdown as the north has the worst school buildings in Scotland

By Scott Maclennan

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!
The poor state of Charleston Academy.
The poor state of Charleston Academy.

Highland councillors will be asked again to take action on the horrendous state of the region’s schools after abandoning 10 projects in September.

Aird and Loch Ness councillor Helen Crawford has tabled a motion to declare a “school estate emergency” because the conditions in Highland education buildings is so much worse than the rest of Scotland.

Originally it was to have been discussed at the full council meeting on December 14 to put pressure on the Scottish Government to take action but the item was not heard due to an overloaded agenda.

That meant the debate was postponed despite Cllr Crawford hoping that by taking decisive action by highlighting how bad the school estate is for pupils and staff but the opportunity to pressure the government ahead of the budget was missed.

Report on the council's rejection of emergency declaration:

At the same meeting, the council voted to keep attainment data secret at those 10 schools amid concerns the state of the school estate was impacting academic performance.

The SNP-led political administration has been battered by criticism since it cancelled – or to use its own terminology “deferred” – the building of 10 vital projects in September saying it lacked funding.

The last hope of funding was from the Scottish Government’s Learning Estate Improvement Programme (LEIP) but in October the SNP’s education secretary announced the Highlands would not get a penny.

Councillor Helen Crawford outside Beauly Primary School. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Councillor Helen Crawford outside Beauly Primary School. Picture: James Mackenzie.

School estate emergency

The motion she tabled is understood to be the first of its kind in Scotland and called for:

  • the council to declare “a school estate emergency” and establish an emergency action plan to address the poor state of so many buildings
  • the council leader to write to the First Minister outlining the “urgent need” for more cash to reduce the disparity between Highland schools and the rest of Scotland
  • the cabinet secretary for education to attend the next full council meeting to answer questions from members on funding.

Each council motion now has to get the once-over from officers in case there is a financial impact on the council if passed but the conclusions sparked questions about why these areas could be problematic.

The so-called Section 95 officer believes there would be cost implications but could not quantify them and revealed that just 37 per cent of the Highland school estate had a “completed condition survey.”

The assessment worried that there would be a “cost of staff time involved in preparing a plan, and a financial cost from staff tasked on this plan” instead of doing an “activity which may be income recoverable through staff time recharges”

It added: “From recent information, around 37 per cent of the school estate has had a condition survey completed to date. The cost to conclude surveys of the remaining estate would be significant, but has not been estimated at this time.”

If the problem of the school estate is to be sorted out then why would it be considered a problem whether or not staff worked on it and if the council is as open and transparent as it claims, why is there a concern about completing surveys?

Highland Council has the worst schools buildings in Scotland
All the more reason to ask those questions is that Highland Council has by far the worst school estate in Scotland. Of 167 primaries just 27 are rated A – good; 84 are considered B – satisfactory; and 56 are graded as C – poor.

That means more than 33 per cent of primaries in the region are considered to be in a “poor” condition. The situation is much the same when it comes to secondary schools.

Of the 29 secondary schools, 10 are considered A – good; eight are considered B – satisfactory; but 11 are rated as C – poor, so more than 37 per cent are “poor”.

A second level of consideration is suitability – how far a school is fit to deliver the curriculum and if the “design and layout enhance its function and use” and can cope with all its demands and services.

Once again the Highlands score low: 26 primaries are considered A – good, 81 B – satisfactory and 60 are C – poor, so 35 per cent are believed to be not good enough for pupils to be taught in.

As for secondary schools: 11 are considered A – good; five are thought to be B – satisfactory while 13 have been rated as C – poor. So almost 45 per cent of secondaries are not suitable to “deliver the curriculum”.

Thousands of children affected

Cllr Crawford said: “Across Scotland the percentage of schools graded A – good for condition and suitability is almost 91 per cent. That’s in sharp contrast to the situation we have here in the Highlands where not even 20 per cent of our schools are graded A – good.

“And, of more concern, according to statistics provided on the Scottish Government’s own website, 10 per cent of secondary schools across Scotland are rated C – poor, in contrast to 37 per cent here in the Highlands.”

She continued: “We know that thousands of our children across the Highlands are spending their school day in buildings that are not fit for purpose and an unacceptable number of teaching and support staff are spending their working life in those buildings too and that must impact negatively upon recruitment and retention of teachers.

“For these reasons, I am calling upon all Highland councillors to support this motion declaring a school estate emergency until we have fixed the problem that is clearly affecting our children’s education.”

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More