Scandal of Scotland's crumbling schools

TEN thousand Scots schoolchildren are being educated in crumbling and condemned state schools that will not be rebuilt for many years because of chronic cash shortages.

More than 80 schools are in such an appalling state they have been officially declared beyond economic repair, but education chiefs admit they do not even have plans to replace them, let alone cash for rebuilding.

Teachers, pupils and parents last night exposed the atrocious conditions in which thousands of youngsters at 'D grade' schools are attempting to learn, lifting the lid on filthy toilet blocks, damp-filled classrooms and exposed wiring.

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Major councils and teaching unions laid the blame for the crisis at the door of the Nationalist government, claiming its dogmatic refusal to accept private finance was consigning a generation of Scots children to miserable schooldays and sub-standard education.

A total of 134 Scottish schools are classified as D grade, meaning they are 'economically extinct' or that it would cost more to repair and maintain them than it would to start again.

Scotland on Sunday has, for the first time, obtained the names of all the schools. Our investigation revealed that 37 have been, or are about to be, moved to new buildings. Twelve D-grade schools are due to be replaced between 2010 and 2016.

But 85 schools – one secondary, 75 primaries and nine special needs – have effectively been left to rot. In every case, council bosses concede they do not even have long-term plans for replacement.

Our investigation has also revealed that some of Scotland's most vulnerable youngsters are being hardest hit. Special needs schools are twice as likely to fall into the very worst category as mainstream schools.

We have also uncovered compelling evidence that conditions in some higher-rated C and even B-graded schools are similar to the worst category.

Barrhead Secondary in East Renfrewshire is officially grade B, or acceptable, but parents claim it is in such a poor state of repair that some children refuse to use the toilets.

The condition of all school buildings in Scotland were assessed by councils in April last year, and each was given a rating based on the urgency of any repair work needed, the safety of the building and the impact of problems on school life.

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Schools with little or no defects in their heating system, roof, insulation and fire alarms were given an A rating, while those given the lowest D rating were deemed to be "economically expired" and "at risk of failure".

But school construction programmes have ground to a halt after the SNP turned its back on private finance initiatives, which allowed projects to be funded by private companies and leased back to councils.

The SNP's alternative funding plan, managed through the Scottish Futures Trust, has so far failed to commission a single project since its launch in May last year.

Of the 85 D-grade schools without replacement plans, 45 are in Aberdeenshire, 18 in North Lanarkshire, 17 in Glasgow, three in Highland and one each in Midlothian and Stirling. Lasswade High, in Midlothian, is the only secondary on the list.

In Glasgow, 11% of children with special needs and 6% of primary school children will remain in D-grade buildings indefinitely.

Steven Purcell, leader of the Labour-run city council, admitted: "The state of the classrooms means pupils are not receiving the educational opportunities they deserve, and if they are in a building that's crumbling what are we saying about the value of education?

"The Government has to recognise that when you are dealing with the educational future of young people and also the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, there is no room for political dogma. We need to restore a level playing field as a matter of urgency."

Labour Shadow Education Secretary Rhona Brankin said: "Schools in every part of

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Scotland are not fit for purpose, and pupils and teachers are crying out for new facilities. The Scottish Government should be ashamed that lessons are being taken in crumbling classrooms. The Scottish Futures Trust is in absolute chaos and we still don't know how it will work."

The general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, Ronnie Smith, said: "There is a complete hiatus on school building and refurbishment at the moment, while the Government works out how to fund it. The school building programme needs to benefit from a boost in funding to help the entire economy."

Scottish Conservative MSP Derek Brownlee said: "It is the long-term result of the fact that year on year there has been a failure to take proper decisions on infrastructure and years of neglect, rather than any one thing."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Futures Trust is already supporting infrastructure investment and will be used in the commissioning of a new school project in the spring. Local authorities are also able to build schools through traditional funding methods. In 2008, more than 30,000 pupils have swapped sub-standard classrooms for modern ones and over the lifetime of this parliament we will see that total rise to at least 100,000."

'Bricks and windowsills are crumbling away'

THE first sight greeting visitors to Lasswade High School Centre is rusted barbed wire and the broken windows of the teaching block next to the car park.

The red letters of the sign calling Lasswade, in Midlothian, "A School for the Community" are peeling off the wall. While the windows at the front of the school were replaced two years ago, after falling out, round the back the true state of the building is exposed.

Single-glazed panes are dirty and cracked in places where they have worn too thin, and the windowsills are crumbling away.

Paint peels off the outer walls and the corridors inside, as the ancient heating system leaves one end of the school freezing while classrooms near the boiler swelter in the heat.

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Headteacher Albert Jaster told Scotland on Sunday that parts of the school, which has 1,200 pupils, had not been refurbished for half a century.

He said: "This school was built post-war, and all the houses that were built at the same time using the same materials have been knocked down. The windowsills and the bricks are crumbling away.

"We have flat, felt roofs and they leak water in various areas in the school, which means we can't use some areas when it rains. We have IT, but the 1950s building can't handle the wiring, which is hanging from the ceiling, and it breaks down regularly. Our repair budget is sitting at a 20,000 overspend.

"Staff and pupils are being very patient but we have got a school that's reaching the end of its lifetime."

Lasswade's building, one of the worst in the country, has been labelled "economically expired" by the Scottish Government, meaning it is more expensive to keep on repairing the school than it is to build a new one. But despite applying to the Government for 70m of funding to build a new campus, via the Scottish Futures Trust, Lasswade is still waiting for a response.

Midlothian Council's director of education, Donald MacKay, told Scotland on Sunday the situation was desperate for Lasswade, which costs the council 2m a year in maintenance.

He said: "We've been told that the current school has a lifespan of just five years. We've been working on a replacement package for some years and produced an outline business case. But even if someone came along and pushed the button today, it would only be up and running in three to five years time.

"The whole issue is about the Scottish Futures Trust. As a council we require the Government to come into partnership with us when you are talking about that size of school. It is unaffordable to us as a council, especially at this time."

And this is the 'acceptable' face of Scottish education

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BARRHEAD High is a category B school – "satisfactory" condition – in East Renfrewshire, the best education authority in the country.

In theory, all should be well. However, judging by the school's faded sign, barred windows and heavily gated entrance, it looks more like an unkempt secure facility.

A parent from a local primary school, who took her son to an open evening in preparation for his entry to the school in August, was appalled.

The mother, who did not want to be named, said: "The front of the building is a very poor 1960s design built with poor-quality materials. The windows are rusted and the plaster is coming away.

"The school has recently been painted but there are signs of severe dampness because the paint is already peeling off the walls. Internally there is evidence of water ingress. There are cracks in the ceiling and water going into the light fittings.

"The shower curtains are ripped off in the changing rooms and the disabled shower is all rusted. I certainly wouldn't want to use those toilets, so I don't see why pupils should."

During the tour of the school, parents noted polystyrene tiles falling off classroom ceilings and that the heating system is almost defunct.

The mother added: "Most of the other school estates around here are in excellent condition. They are new-builds or refurbished with excellent sports facilities. They also have excellent achievement records, for example St Ninian's, Williamwood, Mearns Castle. They are very welcoming and well-designed. It's quite a stark difference."

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Another parent whose daughter attends the school said of Barrhead: "The girls' toilets have missing toilet seats, and are quite often dirty with no toilet paper or paper towels. It's unacceptable.

"We moved to the area for the primary school eight years ago and assumed that Barrhead High would get a new building but it hasn't happened."