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Abronhill high school closure given the go ahead by Scottish Government

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 13:16 GMT on Friday, June 28th, 2013.

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THE Cumbernauld high school which was the famed backdrop of Bill Forsyth’s Scottish cult classic, Gregory’s Girl could close after the Scottish Government agreed to a council proposed closure of the school – with conditional strings attached to the closure’s approval. 

Abronhill High School could close after the Scottish Government completed their call-in of North Lanarkshire Council proposals to see the campus closed and merged with Cumbernauld high school, two miles away.

The decision of the Ministers follows a long community-based campaign to ensure that the school remains open – with campaigners arguing that no educational benefit would come of a closure; savings were disputed; and, that both the community of Abronhill and education of the pupils at Abronhill high would be negatively impacted.

In a report from 10th January, 2013, Education Scotland said that the council’s proposals were met by “significant opposition”, adding: “Almost all parents of children from each of the schools had significant concerns about the proposal”.

The education inspectorate’s report continued: “Overall, children and young people from across the schools were not in favour of the proposal”, further adding that, “…staff from each of the schools were not in favour of the proposal”, citing arguments against the merger as including fears over the walking routes between both schools; transition processes; the educational impact of the students at both campuses; the process to construct a new school; as well as the economic problems which would ensue Abronhill after any closure of Abronhill high went through.

In the end, Education Scotland concluded: “In relation to the concerns raised in this report and in the absence of any detailed plans for a new school, HM Inspectors are not confident that the current proposal to rationalise Abronhill and Cumbernauld High Schools on to one campus by closing Abronhill High School at the end of session 2012/13 and transferring young people to the existing Cumbernauld High School would ensure immediate educational benefits for children and young people in 2013.”

In order to counter the fears surrounding the authority’s timeline of closing Abronhill High School by what would be, this summer – North Lanarkshire Council’s Learning and Leisure Services department recommended that the Learning and Leisure Services committee – and full council agree to recommendations that: 

(i) at the end of school session 2013/14, the provision of education at Abronhill High School and Cumbernauld High School be discontinued and a new school be established and that all pupils currently attending both the current Abronhill and Cumbernauld High Schools will be provided with education at the existing Cumbernauld High School premises;

(ii) from the start of school session 2014/15 all primary school pupils who under the present arrangements would have transferred to Abronhill and Cumbernauld High Schools will be provided with secondary education at the existing Cumbernauld High School premises; and

(iii) as an early priority in the next phase of the Schools & Centres 21 Programme, a new build school will be constructed to replace the amalgamated schools on the existing Cumbernauld High School site.

The recommendations were approved by a meeting of the Learning and Leisure Services committee – and subsequent special full council meeting on Wednesday, February 6th, 2013. Thereafter, the public were invited to make representations to the Scottish Government, requesting a call-in of the authority’s plans. 

The Scottish Government called in North Lanarkshire Council’s proposals on March 19th, with a Government letter to North Lanarkshire Council’s Education department recognising that after a “… considerable number of representations were received,” Ministers gave “…careful consideration” to the cases proposed by the public, adding that, “…Scottish Ministers have concluded that there are grounds on which to call-in the decision under sections 17(2)(a) and 17(2)(b) of the 2010 Act.”

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The letter set out the Scottish Government’s reasons behind their call-in of the authority’s proposals to rationalise Abronhill and Cumbernauld high schools.

“First, the Scottish Ministers are of the view that the Council may have given insufficient regard to section 17(2)(a) of the 2010 Act in that its educational benefits statement may not comply fully with requirements for such a statement as set out in section 3 of the same Act. The Scottish Ministers are concerned that the educational benefits statement lacks clarity about the benefits to be realised in the period before a new school is built. This is a key point in the Education Scotland report and while the Scottish Ministers acknowledge that the Council amended its original plans to delay the transition from Abronhill to Cumbernauld by 12 months in light of concerns raised, they are of the view its consultation response may not fully address all of the concerns raised. This requires further investigation.

“Second, the Scottish Ministers are of the view that the Council may have failed to take proper account of a material consideration under section 17(2)(b) of the 2010 Act, as it is contended that the Council may have failed in its statutory obligation, under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 (as amended), to seek expect advice on the impact of the proposed merger of the two schools on children requiring additional support. In addition, the Education Scotland report notes that the proposal does not take sufficient account of the possible effects of the changes within Cumbernauld High School for young people who attend the Language & Communication Support Centre and how these changes may impact on their learning. This requires further investigation.

“Third, the Scottish Ministers are of the view that the Council may have failed to take proper account of a material consideration under section 17(2)(b) of the 2010 Act by failing to ensure that pupils from Abronhill will have safe and accessible routes to their new school. A large proportion of the representations raised were about the safety of the proposed walking route and related to the poor condition, poor lighting, undulating topography and the i$olated nature of the footpath. Ministers also noted that Education Scotland are of the view these concerns are justified and that its report stated that the Council needs to provide pupils and their parents with clearer information about how it will ensure young people's health and safety. While the Scottish Ministers acknowledge that in response to these points the Council has indicated that the route has been assessed by its Roads and Transport Service, they are not yet confident that the Council has fully addressed the issue. This requires further investiation.

“Finally, the Scottish Ministers are of the view that the Council may have failed to take account of the following material considerations under section 17(2)(b) of the 2010 Act due to the following contentions raised in the representations made to them:

• that the PE facilities at the existing Cumbernauld High School are inadequate for a
school with a roll of around 1000 pupils;
• that Community Groups which use Abronhill High School after school hours were not
consulted about the Council's proposals; and
• that disabled access in the existing Cumbernauld High School is limited due to there
being no lift.”

The letter concludes that the reasons identified behind the call-in of the council’s proposals required “further investigation”, although the council later said they were not “particularly surprised”

Talking to Cumbernauld Media on Tuesday 19th March 2013, Jim Logue, Convener of Learning and Leisure Services, said: “We are not particularly surprised by the Scottish Government’s decision to call-in the school rationalisation proposals.

“Clearly this has been driven by political considerations rather than in the best educational interests of the young people currently attending the schools concerned.
“This decision is indicative of an increasingly dictatorial approach from Scottish Ministers in local government matters
“The fundamental reasons behind these proposals have not altered. The schools are hugely under occupied and, as an educational authority, we have already seen the benefits of merging under-occupied secondary and primary schools and providing pupils with wider educational opportunities. To be clear, this is not solely about money, although we cannot continue to heat, light and maintain empty classrooms. This is about providing better opportunities to our young people now and for generations to come.
“The reasons given by the Scottish Government for the call-in do not stand up to any scrutiny and we are 100% confident of our position.
“North Lanarkshire Council has an outstanding track record in managing the transition of pupils to new schools, as noted in a number of HMIe reports.
“The decision to call-in these proposals will only add to the uncertainty for pupils, parents and staff. We will provide any further information required by the Scottish Government ahead of their decision and fully reserve all our options, including legal challenge, should they determine that these very necessary and beneficial proposals should not proceed.”

Today, however, the Scottish Government have said that the council’s proposals are good to go – as long as they meet select criteria - after the council sufficiently answered the points which they had raised in their March call-in notification, with a Scottish Government letter, conditionally approving the closure – which was made public today, stating: “…having looked at the totality of what has been considered by the education authority, the Scottish Ministers are satisfied that. North Lanarkshire Council has fulfilled its obligations under the 2010 Act and that the closure proposal is a reasonable one which the Council are entitled to make and accordingly, the Scottish Ministers grant consent to the proposals in accordance with section 16(2)(b)(i) of the 2010 Act subject to the Council meeting the conditions set out in this letter.”. 

The conditions attached to the approval of the closure of Abronhill high school, and its merger with Cumbernauld high school are that:

The Council shall request that Police Scotland undertake a safety assessment of all the proposed walking routes to Cumbernauld HS and to make a report of its findings publically available along with any recommendations. A copy of the report will be sent to North Lanarkshire Council and the Parent Councils of each of the schools affected by this proposal and the Scottish Ministers;

The Council shall, within 3 months of receipt of the Police report, and following discussion between the Police, Council, Parent Councils and Head Teachers, publish its response to the report setting out how it intends to implement the recommendations made. This shall include details of what work requires to be done and when this will be carried out. A copy of the Council's response will be sent to the Police and copied to the Parent Councils of all the schools affected and the Scottish Ministers;

All improvement works to be carried out as a consequence of the Police recommendations shall be complete before the first day of term of the new amalgamated school, i.e. start of academic year 2014/15. The Council shall provide the Parent Councils and the Scottish Ministers with regular progress reports on delivering the improvement work required; and

The Council will undertake a full assessment of the safety and capacity of bus stances at Cumbernauld HS which are used by pupils for both boarding and alighting and make any necessary improvements to ensure the stances are capable of accommodating safely the increased numbers of pupils likely to be using them following the merger of the two schools. These improvements are to be in place for the start of the new school year in 2014.

North Lanarkshire Council can proceed with their proposals – as long as the criteria are met, in line with their agreed recommendations. However, the community could now step up once more and muster another backlash to any closure, after the Save Abronhill high school campaign sought legal advice from the Govan Law Centre.

The advice sought said a good case could be made that North Lanarkshire Council had broken the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 in tendering out the design brief of the promised new build at the current Cumbernauld high school premises, as a reference project, but that the 2010 Act had never been properly tested in court.

A spokesperson for the Save Abronhill High School Working Group said that the campaign group – and community feel “disappointed”, adding that the Scottish Government “…has listened to the community and pupil’s core concerns which justifies the our coming together to challenge this very poorly consulted exercise by North Lanarkshire Council.”

For more about the Save Abronhill High School visit, or click onto  

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