ANGRY PARENTS PACKED into two consultation meetings in Elgin on Wednesday to make their feelings clear over plans to create a ‘school within a school’ in the Moray town.
Both sessions of the meeting called at Elgin Town Hall were busy – but it was at the evening meeting that hardly a seat was available, as parent after parent protested Council plans to effectively ‘split’ East End Primary into two schools while a proposed new school is being built.
The school’s parent council has been campaigning throughout the Christmas holiday to ensure that concerned parents and guardians were fully aware of the proposals, which would see the former Heritage Centre at the school effectively becoming a second school with its own staff.
Following the meeting last night, several parents voiced the opinion that they will be interested to see how much attention the local authority will really pay to their views in the consultation.
Secretary of the East End Primary School Parent Council, Susan Munro, was delighted that so many parents and representatives of the school as well as many from New Elgin Primary and residents in the South East Elgin catchment area attended.
She said: “There were many issues raised and very little support for the proposal of a temporary school being based at East End. Overall, we felt the Proposal by the Council for the temporary school was not at all well received.
“We pushed forward our own alternative proposal – that the children from the new South East catchment should be zoned to East End until a new school is built. The children should be part of East End, but perhaps kept in separate classes so that the transition to the new school will be easier.
“We also support the idea of another Deputy Head Teacher being recruited to oversee these pupils and would also move with the children when the school is eventually built. Parents and children can of course make the decision to either stay at East End or move on to the new school when the time comes.”
One of the burning issues in the proposals that angered many parents related to transporting pupils to the ‘new’ school, which the Council say would consist of around 50 new pupils each year, all of whom would transfer completely when the new school built.
Mrs Munro said: “Transport should still be provided for the South East children, but we would like to see bus services being provided for children attending East End from the Pinefield area, as the dangers of walking along the A96 to East End are well documented and acknowledged.
“We also made it clear that while we accept the roll will still increase, we also want the Council to deal with all the issues surrounding the school including improving security through new boundary fences and improving road safety and traffic management.
“That is an issue that both East End and St Sylvester’s schools and nurseries have been campaigning for over many, many years.”
Both consultation sessions saw council officials come under severe pressure from parents who heavily criticised the proposals, with the afternoon session in particular becoming heated at times.
Little if any support was voiced for the proposals, with only the head teacher at New Elgin Primary showing some support during the evening session when she voiced the view that the proposals offered an “exciting opportunity” for her school.
One angry parent asked what surveys or assessments the council had undertaken in relation to the impact on roads around East End and St Sylvester’s primary schools. The response was that no assessments had been undertaken, adding that the known problems “may be insurmountable”.
The angry questioner responded that it was “inconceivable” that the Council could go ahead with a proposal when they are already admitting that such issues could be insurmountable.
During the meeting the Council corporate director of education and social care, Laurence Findlay, insisted that housing children at East End on a temporary basis “presented the greatest educational benefit” for children. His senior education adviser, Paul Watson, added that the alternative would be splitting pupils over three or four primary schools.
However, the chair of the parent council, Louise Yaxley, insisted that it would be a “logistical nightmare” to set up the temporary school within East End, creating friction between the two pupil groups as they used a split playground and shared gymnasium and canteen facilities.
Mrs Yaxley said: “I’m not confident construction [of the new school] is going to be finished on time – and meanwhile East End’s roll is projected to increase. By 2017 there will be 357 children there – while its functional capacity is 233, yet Moray Council thinks it can jam more than 100 more pupils in before 2019.
“I am very angry about this – I do not feel there are educational benefits for the children already attending East End, this is all about the children going to the new school.”