Shameful schools

SCOTLAND has always been proud of the young adults who have emerged from its school system. Back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, other countries copied our methods, and they imported our teachers and administrators to ensure their success. Some would argue that standards have occasionally slipped, but today our schools still produce pioneers who go on to achieve greatness in every field.

Even during Scottish education's halcyon days, school pupils sometimes had to endure cold classrooms and tough conditions. Many among the current generation of parents who have children in state schools likely have tales of privation to tell – of lessons held in difficult-to-heat, portable classrooms, sharing tatty textbooks and of broken windows and leaking roofs. But times have changed. Expectations have risen. And we should definitely expect more for our children. Unfortunately, all the evidence suggests that conditions in our schools are not only not rising, they may be falling.

As Scotland on Sunday's investigation reveals today, 10,000 Scottish schoolchildren are being taught in schools which, in civil service speak, are "economically expired". This means that 85 schools are so derelict that they are beyond any hope of repair, with rotten walls and roofs, draughty gaps around window sills, and putrid toilets.

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These schools – most of them primaries and a disproportionate number, special schools for our most vulnerable children – have been ranked in the worst category – 'D' – after a national audit. Another 49 schools were similarly labelled but have been earmarked for improvements. The disturbing thing about the 85 other schools is that there are no plans to either rebuild or replace them.

But this newspaper's investigations suggest that even this does not tell the whole story. Another 698 schools are ranked in the 'C' – "poor" – category. The head of the parent council at one, Wick Academy, spoke of "Eastern Bloc" conditions. There are questions about even the 1,443 schools in the 'B' – "satisfactory" – category. At Barrhead High, parents said toilets were so bad children refused to use them. Only 404 Scottish schools make it into the 'A', top category.

It is clear that our politicians are not doing enough to tackle this problem. They may be fond of telling us, come election time, that their priority will always be ensuring that the next generation of Scots has the best possible start in life. But they struggle to fulfil such promises once they are in a position of power.

The Scottish Government today stands culpable of just such a breach of promise.

At the May 2007 election, the SNP manifesto pledged to match existing school building programmes "brick by brick". Just two months ago, Finance Secretary John Swinney reiterated: "Spending on our youngsters is key to our collective future, and of course the education they receive is central to this... we intend to give the highest priority to capital spending on new and improved school buildings, helping to create a 21st-century environment in which Scottish children can learn."

Unfortunately, it seems that Swinney and his colleagues are letting political dogma get in the way of making real this aspiration. Another SNP manifesto pledge was to end the PFI/PPP deals which the last, Labour/Lib Dem, administration used to embark on ambitious, if costly in the long-term, school building projects. This is one pledge the SNP has kept, but without breathing life into the promised Scottish Futures Trust as an alternative funding mechanism. As a result, school building has ground to a halt in many parts of Scotland, with councils unsure how to continue and headteachers despairing at the prospects for their pupils.

This cannot continue, and it is why this newspaper is launching a campaign to Save Our Schools. Our starting point is to gather more evidence of the damning state of Scottish classrooms, so we are appealing for teachers, parents and pupils to send us details, and photos, which expose poor standards. We'll use them to shame our politicians into action, and force them to make Scottish schools something to be proud of once more.