SCHOOLS: ‘Care should be taken to ensure that there are separate entrances to the two schools’

By Bill Heaney

UPDATED: March 10, 2023

Catholic primary school pupils at St Martin’s in the Renton will be prohibited from going through the same campus gates as special needs pupils who will attend a refurbished unit in the same building which is being described by West Dunbartonshire Council as “a new school”.

Although, in an effort “to alleviate some of the anxiety about how the two schools will share facilities” some people have “expressed some reservations in terms of safety regarding car parking and access at the school at busy times”.

The question of how children and parents will be separated at the gates did not come up at a meeting with the Archbishop’s representative in West Dunbartonshire, although reservations were expressed by parents when non denominational and Catholic children were mixed in the past – but not allowed to use the same gates.

This happened at Aitkenbar Primary School in Bellsmyre, Dumbarton, where the staff of both the non denominational part of the school and the Catholic part were kept apart in separate staffrooms.

A minute from a public meeting between Council officials, including Laura Mason, the chief education officer, and members of her headquarters staff, did refer to co-location.

It said: “The Archdiocese welcomes the fact that the co-location of the two schools will be in accordance with the Catholic Church’s protocols for co-located establishments.

“Given that the young people moving into the new building will be of secondary age, the Archdiocese felt that care should be taken to ensure that there are separate entrances to the two schools.

“They further noted that any connecting doors between the schools should ensure the safety of children and young people at all times and that shared use of facilities be appropriately timetabled.”

Chief Education Officer Laura Mason and Archbishop William Nolan.

Laura Mason confirmed that the purpose of the meeting is to consider the proposal to establish a new school providing education for young people with additional support needs which would be located in the former Riverside Early Learning Centre premises from August 2024.

She outlined that the public meeting is part of the formal statutory consultation process required for the introduction of a new school, and further confirmed that the Council follows the guidance from the Archdiocese on “Shared Campus Arrangements”.

Ms Mason explained that there will be two separate schools, with two separate entrances and each school would have its own senior management team.

It appeared that the officials expected questions from parents to be more about historical issues with car parking / and drop off points within the site at St Martin’s.

Laura Mason outlined that West Dunbartonshire Council are committed to expanding and improving the learning estate to meet projected needs of the special needs sector.

Choices and Kilpatrick schools will be expanded and this can be done without the need for statutory consultation, she told the parents.

She confirmed that the reason Riverside site is proposed for the ASN School is because it is owned by the Council, can be easily refurbished and adapted, and has outdoor space.

The proposal, if approved, would involve the opening of a new school and change to the use of the current building, the Council is required to carry out a consultation process as detailed in the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010.

“The 2010 Act requires the education authority to undertake a robust process to allow views of statutory consultees to be put forward and considered,” she added.

A report including recommendation will be submitted to the Education Services Committee in March 2023 to make a final decision.

Parents raised a number of questions at the public meeting including known problems at the site with car parking, drop-off points and the turning area.

They were told: “Additional land is available from demolished building and would accommodate wider car parking area.”

There was also concern with a dual campus school – “The school roll within St. Martin’s is low and could this proposal affect numbers within the primary school? Could St. Martin’s get pushed out?”

St Martin’s future was hanging by a threat for some time and this led to protest, but parents were told: “There is no intention to undermine St. Martin’s Primary school.

“The new school would accommodate around 36 children, from across the authority who would transition from their existing school settings to S1 when the new school opens.

“This would be a shared campus and not a dual school, and would allow us to make use of space not used by St. Martin’s.  The site has good grounds for outdoor use and good access.

“The school would enable young children to access the curriculum to provide them with the skills they need, and provide a seamless learning experience from primary to secondary curriculum.  Our existing ASN schools (Choices and Kilpatrick) work with their local schools where they can.”

Concern was expressed that there could be an unintentional consequence from ignorance and the Council need to publicise and explain more about this.  There needed to be stability for parents within St. Martin’s.

They were told: “The expansion of the ASN Learning Estate to meet projected needs is good news, and if the proposal is approved by Committee yes it would be publicised.”

There was concern too in relation to strict school uniform policy within the primary school, and the ASN School being in the same building without having to wear a uniform.

The parents were told: “We would try to promote the wearing of a uniform within the new school, whilst addressing the needs of the severe and complex learners who will attend.”

Uniform is not promoted within school it is policy.  As a parent with a child in ASN I would want children to be treated as normal part of society and not separate.  It would not set a good example if no uniform, one woman said.

She was re-assured that within an ASN setting West Dunbartonshire Council was trying to promote wearing school uniform.

“There can be some complex issues and this means the need for flexibility. Children would be expected to wear the uniform but some children need different support. The children transitioning to the school already wear uniform and this expectation would continue,” a council official said.

Another woman was worried about children “wandering around” from one unit to the other: “Understand the differing needs of children, would not want different standards. I have 3 children, 1 with additional support needs. With different entrances would there be something in place to stop children wandering around? What would stop children within the ASN School going into the areas for St. Martin’s as the building is attached?

The official answer to that question was: “The design for the building will ensure that this does not happen. There will be an additional security door, each school would have their own toilets and areas. This will be a refurbishment not just an upgrade. The layout will be different from the layout used for Riverside early learning childcare centre.”

Previously, when there was an early learning centre, there was a shared gym hall which the nursery children had to walk through and would have concern for younger children if sharing gym hall.

The official answer was: “This would be timetabled, and children would be supervised and there is very good senior management teams. This is still at an early stage and the finer detail of the school day / curriculum for the new school has not being finalised.  There is outdoor space that would be used, and also the gym at Choices School would be used for some curriculum activities.”

Someone asked if it was not unfair to parents to be asked to consult if final details are not available.

She was told: “The purpose of the consultation is to allow us to consider concerns and opinions raised through the consultation process. These will all be given full consideration and responses to concerns or questions will be included in reports.”

And to this question: “Will there be separate management teams?” the answer was that there would be “discrete management teams operating as separate establishments. The shared campus also provides the opportunity to work together at times.

Would there need to be additional catering/facilities staff for the children in the new school?

But the answer to that question is yet to come: “Unfortunately we are unable to answer at this time as facilities comes under a different service. This will be discussed with the service head Amanda Graham.”

“I cannot speak for the parent council but as a parent and a practising Catholic I’m delighted that our school can help other kids no matter what religious background or none the kids have. For me that’s what my religion is about!
“So far as a separate entrance that the archdiocese are requesting is concerned, I fully understand that it if it’s due to kids of potentially four years of age going in the same gate as kids of 18 but if it’s due to purely religious reasons, I personally don’t get it.
“It’s been mentioned before by the Church regarding other proposed mix campus schools that ‘We are very concerned that the sharing of facilities like staffrooms will erode the Catholic ethos of a school’, but I don’t see my religion as so fragile that a gate or staff room could erode it in anyway.
“St Martin’s of Tours (our chapel) is in a great place just now with Canon Peter McBride being absolutely brilliant for our school and community and added to that our teachers, teaching assistants and staff being just outstanding St Martin’s is a school on the up.
“But again, speaking only on my own behalf, the Archdiocese of Glasgow abandoned any rights (until we receive an apology) they had to have a say over our school the minute the previous Archbishop and his representative capitulated to both the Labour and SNP administrations and voted to close our school with Ellen McBride, pictured left, their representative, stating  she had a mandate from the Archbishop to vote the way she felt fit after she had voted to close it.
“Personally, I couldn’t care less if kids access via a single gate and play together (if appropriate age wise), my main concern is Education standing over their promise that this joint school is in ‘no way a precursor for the new SEN school taking over the whole site’.
“And to the Archdiocese, if a single gate is shaking the foundations of our religion then we really need to take a closer look at our foundations.”

Top picture: The local people who protested with Cllr Jim Bollan of the Community Party against the proposed closure of St Martin’s by the SNP administration and are now looking forward to a new school at Riverside. Pictures by Bill Heaney

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