By Lucy Ashton
West Dunbartonshire Council cannot say they weren’t warned there would be social and political consequences if they they built Our Lady and St Patrick’s High School in Bellsmyre.
Warnings have been issued by the EIS teachers’ union that cutting school transport will lead to a drop in attendance and attainment at the new school.
In December, West Dunbartonshire Council’s Labour administration agreed to budget cuts that will see free buses only provided for primary pupils who live more than two miles from their school and to secondary pupils who live more than three miles away.
The decision is expected to lead to around 600 pupils no longer being eligible for free school transport, and could see pupils from areas such as Renton having to walk to school.
The council is currently reviewing the routes to the schools which would be affected by the cuts recommended by Chief Education Officer Laura Mason and passed by the elected members.
Schools earmarked to lose the bus services are being assessed by road safety officers.
This statutory consultation was embarked on amid fears amongst teachers that that bus passes being withdrawn will affect the achievements of pupils, especially those from the most deprived backgrounds.
Truancy rates at the schools affected are likely to rise if this goes ahead.
Gavin Corrigan of the EIS trade union criticised the cuts at a meeting of the education committee, urging councillors to consider the consequences of approving changes.
Mr Corrigan, a teacher at Our Lady and St Patrick’s High, told councillors that he “completely disagrees” with the cuts – ““It’s no secret that attendance at school correlates with attainment. If you come to school then you learn.”
He added that a recent letter sent to parents highlighted that a three percent reduction in attendance can lead to a 10 percent reduction in attainment.
And that the paper presented to members goes on about the benefits of walking to school on mental health and how it will reduce childhood obesity. All of these benefits that come with being active.
“But the harsh reality is that we live in Scotland. It was -7 degrees when I got up this morning.
“We’re making cuts to the clothing grant. We’re making it more difficult for kids to be dressed appropriately for these cold conditions, and now they’re going to have to walk further rather than getting on a bus to bring them to school.”
Cllr David McBride – This is the harsh reality of the financial crisis this council faces.
Labour councillor David McBride said he understood the concerns – but laid the blame at the door of the SNP Scottish Government.
The Dumbarton member said: “The decision to go ahead with this has not been an easy one. It’s hard to argue with anything Gavin has said.
“This is the harsh reality of the financial crisis this council faces. We have had to make dreadful cuts to all areas.
“We had a budget gap of £21 million and every service has been affected badly. Unfortunately we have to balance a budget.
“Thankfully the Scottish Government has brought in a travel card for young people. We need to make sure everyone has that, and we need to work with the bus companies to ensure that there are sufficient services for the demand.”
Of course the school is in the wrong location.
Located in the foothills in the Dumbarton Hills with restricted public access services, with a school teaching block jammed alongside high voltage power transmission lines, on a site with water problems, it’s a bit rich to now blame the SNP for the choice of location since it was Labour who made the choice of Bellsmyre.
Of course the SNP played their earlier part in opposing with others the initial preferred location of the school being located in the town centre. That made sense. Regeneration of the town, in the centre of the town with excellent access and travel times, with the potential for a new pedestrian town centre river bridge affording access to the Leven Grove park, and playing fields too for school and community use, what not to like.
Or not so accessible, what about the site of the old Clerkhill grounds. That was offered to the council for free. Right beside existing extensive playing fields, with the potential to install a train station at the top end of the town, and with an old listed chapel that could have been restored as both a chapel and a place for contemplative teaching, the council rejected the site.
And now with the grade two heritage listing removed by the council, and the chapel immediately thereafter demolished, the council have now given planning permission to private developers to build over one hundred up market houses.
Ah, Dumbarton, always the rag end of everything, they got the money from the Scottish government, chose the site of the school they wanted, and now folks are not happy. I suppose if attendances fall, as they may well do, they can always knock it down. Easy come, easy go – and they say they are short of money.
Oh and as a post script, just wait till they get the absolutely enormous wind turbines proposed for the lands adjacent to the school. That’ll no doubt add to the visual attraction of the school whilst adding to the bath of electromagnetic radiation that school already gets from the HV power cables.