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GIRFEC
Parenting

If There’s A Will There’s A Way

In Scotland, Primary schools (for kids 4-12 year olds) and Secondary/high schools (for kids 11-18 year olds) are divided into two categories: denominational (also known as “faith schools” and non-denominational. I know they exist in other parts of the UK as well, but Scotland is governed separate to that of England/Wales/Northern Ireland.  When I was growing up, the denominational schools were generally called Catholic schools, as historically you had to be baptised in the Catholic faith to attend.  Some of them still use RC (for Roman Catholic) in their titles.

The non-denominational schools were essentially the mop up schools for those of every other faith (although this was predominately Protestant in the past and for those who attended a denominational school, the non-denominational school was generally called the Protestant school – which stems from the historical sectarian nature of Scotland in general, but that’s a whole other story!) and were generally linked with the Church of Scotland.

What happens (still to this day which personally I think is archaic that we have a divide in schools) is all denominational primary schools are “feeder” schools for denominational secondary schools, and non-denominational primary schools feed into non-denominational secondary schools.  A feeder school is just a way of saying if you attend that primary school you will automatically be given a place at that high school it feeds into.  This sounds simple on paper, but when you look at the map of where the denominational primary schools are in relation to the denominational  secondary schools, you realise it’s pretty crazy.  The catchment area of primary schools are usually in relation to where you live.  Which makes the catchment area of a secondary school the total combination of the catchment area for all the primary schools that feed into it.  And denominational secondary schools are the only schools whose catchment overlap any of those of the non-denominational secondary schools.

This can be a logistical nightmare for a lot of parents, as a denominational primary school could be 4 miles away from the secondary school it feeds into, and usually means expense for the local Council as their policy states if a child lives 2 miles or more from their catchment school they are entitled to free school transport.

If you live within the catchment area of a secondary school and wish your child to attend there, but they don’t attend one of the feeder primary schools, you are required to submit a Placing Request to the local Council.  Again this sounds straight forward…but it gets complicated for the parents if the number of applicants exceed the number of places (oversubscribed).  This is then decided by a ballot.  Bearing in mind that some of the applicants already have older siblings at the school and live less than a 5 minutes’ walk from the school gates.  For the 2018 and now the 2019 academic years , it has been decided by a ballot due to the oversubscription.

This year my daughter is due to start high school, we live within a 5 minutes’ walk from a denominational secondary school, we applied for it and as it was a ballot, we didn’t get a place.  Instead my daughter now needs to attend a not so nice secondary school, no doubt with people she dislikes from her current school (which we were trying to avoid), which is miles away from our house – this might not seems like much but it’s a big change from what we thought was going to be happening, so our plans for childcare are up in the air at the moment.  Where we thought our child would be safely walking to a friend’s house (who lives right across from the school) so they could walk to school together, now they are attending different schools and my daughter needs to walk for 1.4 miles by herself as we don’t qualify for transport (as it’s less than the minimum 2 miles from the school), also there are no public buses she can get without walking 20 minutes in the wrong direction first.

It turns out the council knew this was going to happen 3 years ago when the Head of Schools for Renfrewshire Council, Gordon McKinley, mentioned it in passing to one of the Councillors.  But none of them saw fit to take the initiative and do anything about it.  Instead they left it until 3 years later when parents are furious, kids are distraught and now the press are involved. We all decided to stay united and not take it lying down.

It’s not just the current Primary 7’s that are affected by this, as it will keep happening, year on year.  Hundreds of new houses are to be built just a stone’s throw from high school, family homes.  That potentially means a minimum of 100 kids who could apply for that high school, so they need to increase the schools capacity or review the way the furthest away primary schools are automatically allocated spaces before those who live right beside it are.

All the parents of those who didn’t get a place into the denominational high school got together to discuss how to take things forward.  An SNP Councillor and a Labour Councillor attended the meeting (I know I was as shocked to see them calmly in the same room as everyone else was).  We all aired our views and concerns, the Councillors took notes and one of them had a brilliant idea that would work: the Primary school across the road from the school (which is now closed) has recently been refurbished for use, so the idea was to use that to house an entire department from the secondary school, freeing up space for another class within the school (that other class being all the kids who were refused a place).  The second option is if the old primary school could not be used, to add temporary classrooms into the high school by way of “huts” which are full size classrooms of a temporary nature within the school grounds.

We were told that it would cost £5 million to extend the high school but this money was never sought as it would need to come from the Scottish Government.  If using the old primary/temporary classrooms works, then this can only help the case to the Scottish Government for the £5m as it shows how badly it is required to solve overcrowding.

We left the meeting with the Councillors feeling quite positive but now we have to wait for the Council to have their meeting and see what they decide.  If there is a will there is a way, we have the way so we need to keep on at the Council to show them we have the will.  After all, we elect these local Councillors, it’s time for them to finally work for the local people.  So, please cross your fingers and everything else in hope for us.