28/09/2009

Harris Academy Funding - Too Early for Labour led Campaign to Stand Down

I welcome The announcement this morning by Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, that Harris Academy is to receive Government funding towards its major refurbishment. This is hopeful news for education at Harris Academy. I am pleased that the SNP Government and the SNP Administration on the City Council have listened to our campaign. But many questions need to be answered about the details attached to the decision. Much more needs to be clarified before the champagne corks should be popping.

I have placed an item on the Education committee agenda tonight (Monday 28 September 2009). I shall of be asking for:

  • confirmation of the timescale for the comprehensive refurbishment at Harris Academy. When can work start? Is the start date so far off that any current pupils will not enjoy the new and upgraded facilities?
  • confirmation of the amount that the Scottish Government has committed. Is it £1 million or £20 million? That will make a make a huge difference to what can be achieved;
  • clarification of how the council's share of the costs will be financed. The government announcement in June suggested 60% from them and 40% from the council. To finance the Harris Academy refurbishment would mean at least £8 million borrowing for the council to find. What other planned capital improvements may have to be delayed to make way for the refurbishment of Harris Academy? Will the Labour planned replacements of a new Primary School and Nursery in Whitfield, the two replacement Primary Schools and a Nursery for Lochee-Charleston, the replacement Schools for Park Place Primary School and Nursery and St Joseph's Primary School all need to go back down the queue?

I should like to thank all those people who have supported our campaign and petition over the months and weeks since my first press release about Harris Academy in June, but the campaign must continue until we are reassured that the comprehensive refurbishment is to be fully and speedily implemented.

24/09/2009

Petition calls for Refurbishment of Harris Academy

A petition calling for the refurbishment of Harris Academy was launched today. The petition, which is sponsored by Dundee West MP Jim McGovern, Dundee-based MSP Marlyn Glen, Labour Education spokesperson on Dundee City Council Councillor Laurie Bidwell and local West End Councillor Richard McCready, calls for the Scottish Government and Dundee City Council to prioritise funding for the comprehensive refurbishment of Harris Academy.


Dundee West MP Jim McGovern said, 'I have said before that I think the case for Harris Academy being the next major school building project in Dundee is overwhelming. It is important that local people make their voices heard on this important issue. I would urge anyone who wants to see Harris Academy refurbished to sign the petition. '


Dundee-based MSP Marlyn Glen joined her colleagues saying, 'Harris Academy needs refurbished, I hope that the Scottish Government will work with Dundee City Council to find a means to refurbish it.'

Labour's Education spokesperson Councillor Laurie Bidwell said, 'Since I raised this issue in the press on Monday I have been inundated with messages of support and many people have asked what they can do to show support for the refurbishment of Harris Academy. This petition gives people the opportunity to make their views known. The former Labour-led Administration in Dundee had an ambitious programme of school building and refurbishment. The SNP said they would match Labour's building programme 'brick for brick' Labour has developed the proposals to refurbish Harris Academy, the plan is there, the question is do the SNP support investment in our young people.'

West End Councillor Richard McCready said, 'I am very keen to see Harris Academy refurbished. Clearly, Harris Academy would have been the previous Administration's next priority. Local people in the West End expect investment in Harris Academy. Investing in Harris Academy would be good for the young people who study there, it would be good for the teachers who work there, it would be good for the West End to have improved facilities there and it would be a welcome boost to the city's economy by providing jobs in the refurbishment process.'


The petition can be found on-line at www.harrispetition.org.uk

23/09/2009

Class Size Reduction in Primary Schools - Another SNP Broken Promise on Education

The announcement this morning by Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, that she will introduce a legal cap of 25 pupils on P1-3 class sizes will leave parents wondering about the competence of the Cabinet Secretary at mental arithmetic. There is clearly a big difference between the SNP's May 2007 Manifesto Commitment to reduce P1-3 class sizes to 18 with the Cabinet Secretary's announcement of a legal maximum of 25. No amount of spin can remove the 18 or less pledge from the 2007 SNP manifesto. The question that SNP Government ministers must answer is when will 18 or less be met.

As Labour Education Convener in Dundee, until April this year, I was clear that class size reductions were particularly desirable in the early years of schooling but could only be achieved in all Dundee Primary Schools if the government in Holyrood was committed to finance the cost of the extra teachers and classrooms. The government has not given councils one extra penny to pay for the P1-3 class size of 18 policy so not surprisingly progress on reducing class sizes is very slow.

Without extra classrooms and cash to employ more teachers and to erect more classrooms, a legal cap of 25 might reduce parental and carers choice when they find that their local school is full and cannot accommodate all of the placing requests from the school's catchment area.

I think, many parents, carers and teachers will be disappointed that this is another extravagant electoral promise about Education that the SNP government is now conceding it cannot keep.”

20/09/2009

Call for Harris Academy Refurbishment in Dundee as Matter of Urgency

Laurie Bidwell, Labour’s Education Spokesperson on the City Council in Dundee has placed a motion on the agenda of the next Education Committee (Monday 28 September) demanding the declaration of the plans for the next phase of school building work in Dundee; especially the major refurbishment of Harris Academy. During his time as Education Convenor, a feasibility study was conducted by the City Council Education Department which examined options for improving or replacing the Harris Academy buildings. This was shared with members of the Harris Academy Parent Council and West End Councillors in Spring 2009. This study conceded that there was an urgent need to improve or replace the Harris Academy Buildings to bring them up to modern standards to meet the ideals of a 21st century school. Compared with the gleaming new St Paul’s Academy and the soon to be completed Grove Academy, Harris Academy has major deficiencies more particularly:
- The existing classroom dimensions, particularly in the 1930s block, are below an accepted minimum for modern teaching practices;
- The building falls well short in meeting the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) legislative requirements and is inadequate in satisfying the accessibility needs for pupils and staff with disabilities;
- There is currently no facility to allow expressive arts to be fully and satisfactorily integrated into the school curriculum;
- There are inappropriate and inadequate pupil social areas within the building and dining areas are insufficient;
- The location, distribution and condition of pupil toilets are not conducive to providing a safe, secure pupil environment, and are difficult for staff to supervise;
- Traffic and pupil movement around the school, and entering and exiting the school, creates hazards posing significant safety concerns particularly at the start and end of the school day and
- The Harris Academy campus presents significant challenges for fire safety.

In the absence of a suitable alternative site within the catchment of the school, the feasibility study concluded that the most practicable option was to comprehensively refurbish the existing school buildings at a cost close to £20M. The urgency of Harris Academy’s case is primarily educational, but if the refurbishment is tackled sooner rather than later, the spiralling cost of maintaining the existing buildings would be avoided.

Councillor Laurie Bidwell, Labour Education Spokesperson on Dundee City Council, said:
“I think it is important that the Education Convener, Liz Fordyce, urgently commits to secure funding for the upgrading of Harris Academy because, using the Scottish Government's School Estate criteria, Harris Academy buildings have been judged to be 'poor'. Following the opening of St Paul’s RC Academy last Tuesday and the imminent completion of the rebuild of Grove Academy as part of the PPP school building programme in the city, Harris needs to be upgraded to avoid the conclusion that there is a two tier set of secondary school buildings in Dundee; more specifically, the gleaming new St Paul’s RC Academy, the rebuilt Grove and Morgan Academies and the refurbished St John’s RC High School in contrast with the deficiencies in the Harris Academy buildings. A comprehensively refurbished Harris Academy will build on the valued traditions of the school and provide enhanced opportunities for teaching and learning.”

“I have questioned the Education Convener, SNP Councillor Liz Fordyce, more than once at the Education Committee inviting her to declare the council's priorities and programme for the next phase of school building in the city. She has consistently declined to do this. Why is she so shy declaring her programme of school building and refurbishment in the city? I thought that she would want to demonstrate that she was determined to make a reality of the SNP May 2007 electoral promise to 'match Labour's, school building programme brick for brick'? Declaring Harris Academy as a priority would be an important step towards this. Parents and carers in Dundee will want to know from Councillor Fordyce, whether she has any plans, for new schools and school refurbishment, beyond Labour's programme for Dundee?"

Dundee West MP, Jim McGovern, said:
“I think the case for Harris being the next major school building project in Dundee is overwhelming. I hope the Scottish Government will prioritise Harris Academy in the first round of work to be part funded by them via the Scottish Futures Trust. This will not only improve the education of children in the city but also help to secure jobs in the construction industry in Dundee.”

West End Councillor Richard McCready said:
“Harris Academy has a proud record promoting the attainment and achievement of generations of children. The feasibility study surely makes its own case. I have consistently supported the prioritisation of Harris Academy and will do so again at the Education Committee next week.”

15/09/2009

Qualified Welcome for Subsidised School Visits to Bannockburn, Culloden and Burns’ birthplace


Dundee Labour Councillors Laurie Bidwell and Richard McCready today provided a qualified welcome to the announcement, on 10 September, by the Scottish Government of funds to encourage school pupils to visit Bannockburn, Culloden and Burns’ birthplace. Both councillors recognise the importance of promoting Scotland’s history, but they believe that there is much more to Scotland’s history than Bannockburn, Culloden or Robert Burns and more appropriate ways of funding this.

Councillor Laurie Bidwell said:

“Visits to museums and sites of historical significance are an essential part of the education of every pupil in our schools. At first glance it seems commendable that the Scottish Government has provided conservation charity the National Trust for Scotland with additional £180,000 funding to subsidise school parties visiting Bannockburn, Culloden and Robert Burns' birthplace. This is, perhaps, better understood as a back door bailout to National Trust for Scotland which has recently acknowledged financial difficulties and has been discussing the mothballing of some of their properties. If the government want to encourage school visits, I think it should remain true to the spirit of the concordat with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) and local councils. A key plank of this agreement was an end to ring fencing of funding. This is another example of the SNP government in Holyrood breaking that agreement. It would be better to stick to the Concordat and give the cash to local authorities so that our history teachers can arrange visits to places that they judge best fit in with the history curriculum in their schools.

Councillor Richard McCready said:

”I welcome this announcement and the opportunity that it gives for pupils to visit Bannockburn, Culloden or Burns’ birthplace but there is much more to our country’s history than these sites. I think that it would be good if the Scottish Government also supported visits to other important historical sites. In order to understand Dundee’s history, a visit to Verdant Works or Discovery Point would be appropriate. It is impossible to understand Dundee's 19th century history without understanding the industrialisation of Dundee and Verdant Works and Discovery Point help to do this.”

07/09/2009

Temporary Bus Diversions - Service 8X during A92 essential roadworks between East Marketgait & Greendykes Rd, Dundee from Tues 8 Sept


BEAR Scotland will be carrying out essential road maintenance works on the A92 between East Marketgait and Greendykes Road, Dundee from 8 September for approximately 10 weeks.
As a result National Express Dundee service 8X to Broughty Ferry, will be temporarily re-routed as follows:
Service 8X
Normal route to Riverside Drive. From Riverside Drive buses will run via West Marketgait, Yeaman’s Shore, Union Street, Whitehall Crescent then normal route from Shore Terrace

( Dock Street). Buses towards Barnhill are not affected
Affected bus stops will display details of the diversions.
Due to changes in traffic flow around Dundee as a result of the road closure between East Marketgait and Greendykes Road, bus services in general may be subject to delays, particularly at peak times.
Lawrence Davie, Director National Express Dundee, said: “National Express Dundee will be working with Bear Scotland and Dundee City Council to keep bus services running as smoothly as possible, while the essential road works are taking place on the A92 East Dock Street. However, we are advising passengers to allow extra time for their journey, particularly if travelling during the morning or afternoon peak times as there may be changes to traffic flow around Dundee. We apologise for any inconvenience caused and ask passengers to please bear with us whilst BEAR Scotland carry out necessary resurfacing and reconstruction work on the A92 trunk road.”
Full details of service changes are available on www.nationalexpress.com/dundee on the ‘service changes’ pages.