Spare Capacity in Schools

The Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education was set up following a moratorium on school closures and looked closely at rural education and the Schools Consultation Act (Scotland) 2010 for 9 months.  Their report was published 23rd April 2013.
During schools consultations on closures spare capacity within schools is often cited as a reason why they should shut,  something Councillor Allan Wishart reiterated on Radio Shetland the other night.  The capacity formula is produced by the local authority and for Shetland it is based on floor area within classrooms and does not take into account how that space is presently being used ie. built in cupboards or dining/social areas.  As the formula stands it is completely biased towards creating extra capacity which does not exist in real terms.
The physical size of a school will determine capacity however,  due concern must be given to how space is being utilised within a school, something which is mentioned by the both the Commission and the Scottish Government within it’s guidelines. Also we have to look at how the delivery of education in our schools has now changed.  Gone are the days when pupils sat at desks in sardine-packed rows with work book in front of them. Pre-school approaches to education are now being extended into primary school through the Curriculum For Excellence with much more emphasis being put on learning through play.  This means a much greater need for educational toys in our primary schools, for example, doll’s houses, toy kitchens and sand and water trays, which all take up space.  Inter-active whiteboards are now the norm in our schools and the pupils need space to interact with them effectively.
The Accounts Commission report published in 1995 stated that schools in Scotland were operating at less than 60% and suggested the possibility of rationalisation.  When the Rural Commission asked for clarity on the matter there was an admission that some schools would run “under capacity” due to local demographics.  Shetland has a unique geography and we can’t lose sight of that, or the importance of making our remote rural areas attractive places for families to live and work.
I do think that too much emphasis is being put on spare capacity within schools without appreciating the bigger picture.  The Rural Commission also states that “undue focus on capacity was likely to be unhelpful and unnecessary”.  They have also recommended that a consistent approach to capacity modelling should be agreed across Scotland.
Although I think the spare capacity figure is over-inflated I am keen to point out that I am not saying that some schools do not have spare capacity but I think a greater understanding has to be shown to why that might be and how space is being utilised in schools at the moment.
Marina Thomason


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