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Dozens of rural schools at risk

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By Marc
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Dozens of rural schools at risk

DOZENS of rural schools across Dumfries and Galloway are at risk of being earmarked for closure by the end of the year, it has been revealed.

New education guidelines have been drafted up for the schools estate which may sound the death knell for many schools with a low occupancy rate.

In a review of all primary and secondary schools across the region, Dumfries and Galloway Council’s education chiefs are proposing that each of the 114 schools locally should be evaluated and meet ten requirements to safeguard their future.

With school rolls falling and buildings deteriorating, education bosses insist that this proposed new school model is essential to “future proof the schools estate” and meet Scottish Government objectives.

The key principles which schools must meet include factors related to travelling distance for pupils and teacher staffing levels.

However, the one which appears to put the writing on the wall for many rural schools states: “Schools should have an occupancy rate where possible greater than 60 percent utilisation of the capacity of the school, and ideally should be operating at 80 percent utilisation.”

An education report published six months ago revealed that 47 out of the 98 primaries fall below this 60 percent figure, with two having an occupancy rate of just 15 percent. Five of the 98 schools are currently mothballed.

Of the 16 high schools, seven are below 60 percent occupancy.

These shock figures prompted councillors to ask for a review of the school estate and a roadmap’ of recommended changes.

Larann Foss, the schools’ property manager, has now produced a report which will be presented at today’s education committee.

He described “significant challenges and risks for managing the school estate over the coming years”, adding: “These include changing demographics such as population decline, residential development in localised areas, ongoing deterioration in our building infrastructure, pressure on planned maintenance budgets, increasing revenue expenses, the presence of RAAC concrete in some schools and the expansion of early years provision, to name but a few.

“The continued general deterioration of under-utilised facilities also represents an increasing risk of property component failure and facility closure with very limited notice e.g., a heating or roofing failure.”

Mr Foss also underlined that the population of youngsters aged 0-15 in Dumfries and Galloway is projected to decline by 14 percent between mid-2018 and mid-2028.

He wrote: “We must acknowledge that the costs per pupil in under-occupied schools are excessively high and that under-utilised schools are expensive to maintain and operate.

“The importance of future proofing the school estate in light of population decline therefore cannot be underestimated.”

As such, councillors will be asked to agree to a seminar for further explanation of the proposed school model process.

It is also proposed that another report is brought back in December detailing potential changes which would “move the school estate to a sustainable position.”

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