Callendar Park College closure was ‘educational vandalism’

Callendar Park College in 1980 looking west towards Callendar House
Callendar Park College in 1980 looking west towards Callendar House

Fifty years ago this month the builders were putting the finishing touches to one of Falkirk’s most important institutions.

Callendar Park College of Education, built on the site of the walled garden of Callendar House, enrolled its first students in October 1964 at the start of a short 16-year period when primary school teachers were trained.

The acrimonious closure in 1981 and the two campaigns to save the college in the late 1970s (successfully) and the final battle in the early ‘80s are still fresh in the minds of all involved who saw it as educational vandalism on a grand scale.

The story of Callendar Park began back in the 1950s with the post war baby boom and the subsequent shortage of properly trained teachers. The government responded by building several new colleges to supplement existing city institutions and Falkirk was one of the lucky towns.

The 43-acre site was acquired from Callendar Estates and soon the typical box style buildings of the 1960s rose up. As well as classrooms and lecture theatres there were laboratories, a gymnasium, a TV studio, a small theatre and two student halls of residence, Livingston and Forbes, which would hold 200 students.

The college was an immediate success and within a few years the original capacity was raised from 600 to 900 and there were nine teaching departments. The students were destined to work in primary schools all over Scotland and their preparation was greatly enhanced by the close links with local schools and by innovative teaching using the most up to date technology and methods. The community also benefited from a growing band of teachers and students willing to play a full part in the sporting, cultural and civic life of the town.

However, as the boom which had created the college declined in the 70s, the first whispers of possible closure surfaced.

When the government proposed a huge reduction in intake in 1975 and the following year confirmed closure, the balloon went up with a vengeance.

In Falkirk, Alistair Simpson, then lecturing at the college, roused the community through his position in the Arts and Civic Council and was joined by local politicians, teachers, trade unions, college staff and students.

With Harry Ewing MP taking the lead the government was heavily lobbied and there was a long student occupation in May 1976 with a huge protest march the town the year after.

It worked and in December 1977 the government relented. The college roll was reduced to 400 and the freed-up space would house a new Forth Valley College of Nursing.

However, it was no more that a short reprieve. A new government reassessed the figures and closure was back on the agenda.

The protests began all over again and there were further marches but this time the result was different. In 1981 the college merged with Moray House College and the Callendar Park story came to a sad end.

Looking back now must be painful for the many teachers still in post and others now retired. The consolation for them is that what began in the College has continued to influence the lives of thousands of our children in all the years since.