Cautious optimism has greeted the announcement Falkirk Council’s education chiefs are bidding for a £5 million slice of the Scottish Government’s latest round of funding to build new schools.
With £400 million on offer, officials are hoping that Ministers will look favourably on their proposal to construct a replacement for Carrongrange School and allow neighbouring Larbert High to take over its current building.
The Government cash would cover half the costs of the anticipated £10 million bill for the new special school for youngsters with a wide-range of additional support needs.
However, education director Andrew Sutherland has been quick to stress that even if the money is not forthcoming, neither school is at crisis point and teaching staff will continue to work with the “adequate” resources they have.
Three years ago, the Government unveiled a £1.25 billion programme of funding as part of its Scotland’s Schools for the Future initiative. It planned to provide £800 million to replace or refurbish 55 schools across the country by 2018, with the balance coming from local authorities.
Falkirk Council was one of the first to receive cash in the initial stage, putting it towards St Bernadette’s Primary School in Antonshill which opens next week.
With almost half the cash still remaining after two phases, local authorities were invited to bid for the final stage awards.
Mr Sutherland said before Falkirk Council finalised its plans, officials looked at areas where there were or could soon be capacity pressures, options to avoid large scale re-zoning of catchment areas and innovative solutions to make better use of school capacity.
The Larbert/Stenhousemuir area was quickly identified as most in need of additional school capacity with Larbert High having the greatest classroom space pressures.
He said: “We did a bit of lateral thinking to see what we could do that would be a bit different. Our plan for Carrongrange would allow us to provide curriculum support for its youngsters, as well as letting Larbert High extend and give them some more space.
“We believe it will benefit pupils at both schools. However, if the funding is not forthcoming the capacity issues at Larbert High are not insurmountable. It would be advantageous to get a state-of-the-art, single-storey school for Carrongrange, but there are lifts in the current building and pupils can get around.
“If we don’t get the bid then life will continue, but we do hope it is successful as we think it is an exciting opportunity for youngsters at Carrongrange, as well as easing capacity issues at Larbert.”
When the proposal was presented to members of the council’s policy committee last week, councillors heard the headteachers and parent councils at both schools had also been notified. Mr Sutherland’s report stated: “All parties have been very supportive and excited about the prospect.”
Stephen Oliver, chairperson of the Carrongrange parent council, said the short timescale to reply before the bid was submitted, left members unable to discuss the proposal in any great detail.
He said: “In principle, we were in favour of a new build school with the caveat that we would need a lot more detail, particularly about where it was proposed to site the building and the timescale involved.
“Many of the facilities Carrongrange has at present, including two swimming pools, are very good and we wouldn’t want to see any of these lost.
“We would now look to engage fully the wider parent forum with this important issue.”
Annette Steel, chairperson of the Larbert High parent council, said discussions she had with members prior to the bid being submitted were “very positive”.
She said: “The capacity issue has always been one of our major campaigns. The population of the Larbert area is getting bigger every year, placing an additional strain on the school.
“There have been lots of discussion about Larbert being very big, but it is a successful school and the majority of pupils enjoy being there. This seems to be the best option rather than rezoning or building another high school.”