Wednesday, 20 December 2017

In Touch - Whats Going On - Its Christmas

I fear this is going to be a quick round-up here as I have quite a number of things to get through this week before some days off over the Christmas period.

Since the beginning of December I have attended some wonderful events across the Ward, including Burntisland Christmas market - which showcased some fantastic locally handcrafted products. I got some rather lovely Yuletide Spice soap. Despite the cold temperature it was a well attended evening and the Burgh Chambers had just been lit up so all added to the festive atmosphere.

I also got along to the switching on of the Christmas lights on Kinghorn High Street which was accompanied by some carol singing - I resisted the temptation to sing too loudly though as I keep being told I just don't have a singing voice at all and am tone deaf! Hopefully I will be in attendance in Kinghorn again this Sunday for the final Sunday of Advent service. 

Last week it was back to the Burgh Chambers for the Scots Verse competition winners at the primary school to read to a thoroughly captivated audience. A huge congratulations to all the pupils - you were all fantastic! 

Winners of the Scots Verse competition (this picture is courtesy of Burntisland Community Council who published it on their Facebook page)

There is just one more community council to attend this month, that is Kinghorn on Thursday evening. Just over a week ago I was at the Burntisland Community Council, where much of the topic was the proposed (and now signed off) closure of the B923 - the Kinghorn Loch Road. I wish to state here, again, that I am extremely disappointed about the whole process. As I have said at the community council meeting and also to the local media - there has been a silence by the developer and there has also been a complete lack of communication on the part of Fife Council. 

Transportation Services agreed to meet with local councillors on December 5th where the advice was that a potential legal debacle could ensue if closure was not signed off. A petition attracted over 1,000 signatures and we put that to Transportation Services that they really needed to think again - a 16 week closure is undoubtably going to have an impact on local residents and particularly on local businesses. Whilst we all understand that more housing is required and residents are not adverse to the development, the handling of the whole process has been wholly unsatisfactory and disappointing. Small businesses now face a lengthy period whereby, at this point, we cannot predict the exact impact but it is a very worrying time for them. (the petition was handed into Lovell's site office and also to Fife Council) 

Additionally, the closure is going to force a much greater amount of traffic through Kinghorn and along the High Street - a street with a 20mph speed restriction and the local primary school just off it. Ironically (perhaps) whilst sitting in the meeting on December 5th a resident contacted me to state there had been an accident right at the end of the 20mph zone with a car that appeared to have speeded up. It has been indicated there will be more police speed checks but given the low visibility of the police across the Ward (another matter that requires a far greater discussion and which I am gathering information on) I am unsure whether we should feel assured by that. 

Signage is to be provided for anyone driving through, who had intended to visit any of the affected businesses, however, we are yet to see how effective that will be. At this stage work on the closed road is to take place between the hours of 8am - 6pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 1pm on Saturdays. Given that the road will be completely closed I am unsure why the working hours cannot be extended to speed the process up. Again, watch this space for updates. 

Last week was the full Council meeting and I raised 2 questions regarding the closure:

"To ask Council that impact of potential road closures for extended periods, where local communities and businesses may be affected, is built into planning procedures for new housing developments"

I also asked a supplementary question if it would be prudent in future for private developers to be required to make any potential closures that could have a significant impact on local businesses to be covered during the initial planning process. The extended answers to both of these will be provided on this page once I have them back from Fife Council (I would prefer to wait until then rather than just using a summing up that may miss something out).

 Handing in the petition to Lovell's Sales & Marketing Suite
 My comments read:
"Any closure is going to have a signification impact, but three-to-four months, as proposed, is quite simply unacceptable. 
There has been very little contact from council officers to elected representatives since September and the developer, Lovell, has been completely silent. I absolutely urge Transportation Services to go back to Lovell and look at a possible diversion road or a shorter closure. 
It seems unprecedented for a private developer to request a main road is closed completely for such a long period of time."
(Fife Free Press)

Full Council this month was a lengthy affair which stretched into the afternoon and we didn't finish until after 3:30pm. I spoke on the third motion out of 6 that were presented. My motion, the first I brought to Council, was on the need for new schools in Dunfermline. Rather than address this here, please follow the link to the post that details this -

Whilst I am well used to speaking in public and have been doing so for not far short of 2 decades now, I did still feel rather nervous as it was the first time speaking to this audience and of course, to an audience that included many opponents! What did I learn? Well, I think that rather than work out a speech that lasts for 10 minutes (which it did) I would be better to aim for 8 minutes as that may lessen the likelihood of feeling I had to read rather quicker than I wanted to. Additionally, following the debate I was given the opportunity for a 5 minute summing up to close before a vote. This part did not go so well as I felt I lost my train of thought and although taking notes on what others had said I think I should have prepared some exact words from my motion to reiterate and reinforce. However, it is all a part of the learning process! Disappointingly but not surprisingly the motion was defeated by the Administration. The link attached above explains what happened.

Earlier this month I also had the opportunity to revisit the old Burntisland Primary School which is currently being converted into flats. I last visited this site in August and was much enthused by the extent of development which has taken place since then. There will be 27 flats, with the majority to be rented through the Council and a smaller amount as Mid Market Rental through a housing association. (More information on this development is on my councillor Facebook page, I had thought I had written a blog post about it but that does not appear to be the case. I will aim to provide more of an update and detail sometime soon). 

Beautiful, huge windows - they really open up the buildings to so much light (the photograph doesn't really show that though.)

Me on site!

Today I have a number of pieces of constituent correspondence to pick up on and complete a current draft piece of work on the Consultation that is live on the Education (Scotland) Bill - please do take the opportunity to complete this. Changes to educational governance (which I have written about) and  the role of the headteacher is changing. It is important that your views are heard. If you are a teacher, parent or carer you should have received details of how to complete the consultation - it is open to all though.

The link to the paper entitled "Empowering Schools - A Consultation On The Provisions Of The Education (Scotland) Bill" (I would advise reading this prior to attempting to complete the consultation) -

I said this would be a quick post but as usual I have written more than I had intended to. This week I have also been out delivering my councillor leaflet across the Ward. If you haven't received this yet, I will be aiming to get more of them delivered of the holidays. All my contact details are listed so please do get in touch if you have an questions/queries/or concerns. Remember - we work for you! 

Finally, have a very Happy Christmas!


Thursday, 14 December 2017

New Schools For Dunfermline - Update - Post Full Council

Today I proposed my motion to the full Council, as I discussed on here yesterday. Please see the link to the previous article -

Today's Dunfermline Press under their Action For Schools campaign published my comments prior to the full Council meeting -

Unsurprisingly, the Administration proposed an amendment and the amendment was passed. I had hoped, given the previous commentary by the pre-May 2017 Labour Administration - who pointed the lack of movement on this due to no Scottish Government funding being forthcoming, that we may have had some tacit support. However, when you form a coalition that sort of outcome is indeed, almost unheard of. 

However, I think we at least had agreement around the Council Chamber that the school estate does need addressed and that the Council will push for this. My concern though is that the amendment reads that relevant reports must go to the Education & Children's Services Committee and the Property & Facilities Committee for discussion - but when? The amendment states no frequency or regularity. I had proposed a quarterly report on the status of all three to full Council. Whilst, I accept that perhaps, at least in the short to medium term it may be more suited to reporting coming to Committee what I am dismayed about is that there is no status on how regular feedback will be. Most surprising was Labour's Cllr Helen Law who seconded the Administration's amendment. This is the same Councillor who one year ago hit back at the SNP led Scottish Government for not moving the school estate forward, there was none of that today. 

To provide context here is the text of the amendment which was passed:

"Fife Council notes the Administration's continued commitment to the delivery of new high school buildings in West Fife.
Fife Council recognises the inclusion of £50m in its capital plan towards this aim and remits officers to continue dialogue with the Scottish Government, Scottish Futures Trust and other stakeholders to progress this.
Fife Council requests that relevant reports are taken to the Education and Children's Services Committee and Assets, Property and Facilities Committee for discussion, debate and decision as appropriate." 

Judge of that what you will - as my group leader, Cllr Dempsey is always keen to remind -  "the devil is in the detail" - and that is where I am not so confident. We have no answer on timescales at all - "relevant reports are taken" - when? 

Thus another year closes and whilst we are told relevant reports will be taken to appropriate committee, I cannot, unfortunately, report back when this will happen. 

Please find below the full text of my motion to Council.

 “Schools should be part of a world class learning environment" those were the words of Education Secretary, John Swinney at a Reform Scotland conference I attended in October. On that I couldn’t agree with him more. A world class learning environment can and does mean many things, one of those being classrooms and schools fit for the 21st century.  

As we draw to the end of 2017 the latest projection, is that Woodmill High School in Dunfermline will potentially be 70 pupils over capacity by next August. However, that only tells us part of the story. The call for new high schools in Dunfermline and West Fife has been a longer running issue that goes far beyond capacity and catchment.

“The reason for urgency is becoming more than acute at each of the schools as Inverkeithing, for example, is of a design that simply soaks up money to keep the building wind, watertight and in an acceptable state of repair”, these were the words of former Fife Councillor and now Dunfermline MP, Douglas Chapman in March 2015. Indeed, he was correct, yet nearly 3 years later we do not appear to have moved that urgency forward. Today I will outline the reasons why I would like to see Fife Council now move forward and produce regular feedback to both elected representatives and the public on where we are with addressing the school estate at three high schools – Woodmill, St Columba’s and Inverkeithing.

Whilst Councillors, rightly so, rejected plans to redraw catchment boundaries in Dunfermline which would have seen pupils from Masterton Primary School sent to Inverkeithing High School, we are left with a situation of uncertainty for many families and their children as it now seems pupil placing will be decided almost through a lottery. However, it should never have come to this point in the first place this has happened as a result of continued house building in the surrounding area. Without rezoning the roll of the school will continue to grow, potentially reaching 1786 by 2021, that leaves Fife Council with four years to reach a long-term solution and not continue to be; “tinkering around the catchment boundaries (which) will not solve the problem” as one councillor in this chamber has previously described rezoning as.

Around 8,000 new homes have been built around Dunfermline over the past decade, with a possible capacity crisis recognised by Fife Council in 2015 and only last month plans for an additional 220 in the Masterton Primary School area were announced. The 2001 census revealed, to put this into context, a population of 39,000 in Dunfermline by 2011 this was just over 49,000, climbing steadily to 55,400 by 2015 with a projected increase of 29% by 2026 according to the local strategic assessment by Fife Council. My understanding is that a further 12,000 homes are likely to be built in Dunfermline and West Fife over the next two decades – a great number of them will be family homes so it will be reasonable to assume that will mean more children and therefore, more school places will be required. House building and attracting people to Fife is great, but we need to consider the impact on the local infrastructure. House-building and new schools are recurrent and concurrent themes in Fife, only last week I was asked if the new Madras (which hasn’t even been built yet) would end up over capacity very quickly, I was able to reassure – using Fife Council provided data that no, that would not be the case but it does demonstrate the certain degree of cynicism amongst Fifers when it comes to house building and local infrastructure. 

I would like to turn now to look at the school estate itself. Anyone visiting Dunfermline or Queen High School will be struck by the bright, airy buildings, the corridors and walkways that easily accommodate wheelchair users, the accessible toilet facilities on each floor and the classroom that have full Wifi access, IT facilities that work and are spacious and bright. They are modern learning environments. There is an absence of leaking roofs, classrooms that freeze you in Winter and cause the feeling of being trapped in a greenhouse in Summer. By contrast Woodmill, St Columba’s and Inverkeithing tell a very different story. 

School estate in Scotland is rated according to condition and suitability, guidance set out by the Scottish Government. The Suitability Core Fact Sheet reads that:
“The Suitability Core Fact seeks to provide a measure of the extent to which a school building and its grounds are appropriate to providing an environment which supports quality learning and teaching and those other services provided to individual children and to the school community, in terms of practicality, accessibility and convenience.”
Why is Suitability assessed? Again, the Core Fact Sheet reads:
“The assessment is of the school as a whole, its buildings and its ground and of the impact these have on learning and teaching, leisure and social activities and the health and well-being of all users.”

Guidance does state there is no such thing as the “perfect school” and that buildings often reflect what was appropriate at the time of construction. The Core Fact Sheet makes it clear that the Disability Discrimination Act requirements must be dealt with under Suitability. “Building In Better Schools: Investing in Scotland’s Future” states in the Aspirations for the school estate that “schools are well-designed, accessible, inclusive learning environments” – we need to ask ourselves if in 2017 the three schools in question are just that.

Suitability ratings are defined from A-D
A: Good - Performing well and operating efficiently (the school buildings and grounds support the delivery of services to children and communities)
B: Satisfactory - Performing well but with minor problems (the school buildings and grounds generally support the delivery of services to children and communities)
C: Poor - Showing major problems and/or not operating optimally (the school buildings and grounds impede the delivery of activities that are needed for children and communities in the school)
D: Bad - Does not support the delivery of services to children and communities (the school buildings seriously impede the delivery of activities that are needed for children and communities in the school)
The suitability ratings for Woodmill, St Columba’s and Inverkeithing respectively are B,B,C – this means that both Woodmill and St Columba’s are defined as: B: Satisfactory - Performing well but with minor problems (the school buildings and grounds generally support the delivery of services to children and communities).
However, Woodmill has a dedicated Department for Additional Support Needs which is in a new building, if we take that out of the equation, given that not all pupils with ASN spend all their time, sometimes any of their time, in that department, it is, in my opinion, not quite so clear cut. Removing the DAS from the discussion we are left with a school that has a staffroom and first aid room that are completely inaccessible to wheelchair users. PSAs have reported upset pupils at being separated from their friends during the annual round of vaccinations which can be a stressful time for youngsters, particularly those with additional support needs. There are no accessible toilets on the 2 upper floors of the school and wheelchair users and those with mobility needs need to travel around the inner school perimeter to locate one lift in either building. Meaning an extended journey from one classroom to another, or in other words – not being able to travel freely with their peers.
St Columba’s again has a lift but does not have fully accessible toilets on all floors, whilst Inverkeithing is left with a suitability rating of C. That is: Poor - Showing major problems and/or not operating optimally (the school buildings and grounds impede the delivery of activities that are needed for children and communities in the school). There is only one lift within the school and the Science block is not accessible via the normal school internal stairs.
Now let us turn to the condition of the schools. On this all three of the schools are rated as C. The Scottish Government’s most recent, that is this year, publication on Condition states that: “Condition is concerned with the current state of the fabric of the school and with safety and security. Condition has a direct impact on what goes on in the school.” And continues with; “Schools in good condition – irrespective of age or design – signal to all users (pupils, teachers, staff and the community) that learning is a valued activity, that the learning environment is a priority and often gives that all important ‘feel-good factor’”.

All three schools in question are listed as category C for condition – “Poor – Showing major defects and/or not operating adequately (physical element does not carry out function effectively without continuous repair).” Even with seemingly continuous repair, as one former pupil of Inverkeithing High School said to me recently; “almost every time it rained there was a leak, with often just a bucket being put in place and I remember more than one window breaking as a result of the wind.” This was a pupil who left 2 years ago. Without producing a catalogue of complaints some feedback that I have received over the past few months in regards to all 3 schools includes; – there aren’t enough toilets/the toilets are cold and dark/classrooms are too cold in Winter and too warm in Summer/chairs are broken/blinds don’t open/ceiling tiles are loose/there aren’t enough computers and there is no Wifi access – that was from one pupil studying for an Advanced Higher. Home Economics and Science classrooms urgently need upgrading and whilst Dunfermline High and Queen Anne have full Wifi coverage in classrooms, Woodmill, St Columba’s and Inverkeithing do not.  

I feel as if today I have produced a litany of gripes and complaints and therefore, I do want to make the point, that despite the poor condition and suitability, all three of these schools are performing well with dedicated teams of teaching and support staff and pupils who have continued to achieve excellent examination results. A new school estate though would give all pupils access to a learning environment that is fit for the 21st century and on par with the other 2 high schools in Dunfermline, it would also remove any possible developing capacity issues in the future.

Key to all of this of course is funding. Fife Council currently has £50 million set aside for the school estate in its Capital Budget and I have been informed that a further £100 million is required to move this forward. Previous programmes for new schools in Fife have included Building Fife’s Future initiative under which Dunfermline, Auchmuty and the Windmill Campus were built. £23million of investment from the Scottish Government’s £1.25 billion “Schools For The Future Programme” went into Levenmouth Academy. This ambitious project is scheduled to build 67 new schools by March 2018, unfortunately Woodmill, St Columba’s and Inverkeithing will not benefit from this. It would probably be prudent therefore, to consider that funding for new high schools in Dunfermline and West Fife will have to come about from the Scottish Government.

Last month I stated at the Education & Children’s Services Committee following rezoning proposals being put back a year that we have to start seriously thinking about new schools for Dunfermline. Interestingly Cllr Sinclair said something similar almost two years ago; “I have repeated my plea to the Administration to stop palming off pupils and parents in Dunfermline and actually put forward plans so that we can get funding to deliver these school buildings.” I would therefore ask the Administration to do just that, lets move the plans forward and begin the process in January 2018 and provide elected members with regular reports on the status of progress developing a new school estate for each of the three schools discussed today.

Motion proposed by Cllr Kathleen Leslie
Motion seconded by Cllr David J Ross

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

New Schools For Dunfermline - Lets Talk About It

Dunfermline & West Fife Need New High Schools

Fife Conservative Councillors, Kathleen Leslie & David J Ross are bringing a Motion to full Council this Thursday asking the Administration to address the need for new high schools in Dunfermline and West Fife.

Cllr Leslie said: “Before the local elections both Labour and the SNP spoke out and indeed blamed each other for not addressing the need for new high schools. Now we are hearing a deafening silence. Woodmill has a looming capacity crisis and all three schools are listed as category C in condition – this means that the school estate itself is considered to be ‘poor and showing major defects’”.

Cllr Ross added: “Last month plans for an additional 220 houses near Masterton Primary School were announced by Fife Council and over the past decade around 8,000 new homes have been built in the area. Where are all these children to go to school? Additionally, we want youngsters to be educated in buildings that are fully accessible and inclusive for all. Woodmill does not have full disabled access and Inverkeithing High School is listed as Suitability Rating C.”

The Motion before Council on Thursday asks for a full report on all options for three new high schools in Dunfermline and West Fife, and in addition quarterly updates on the status of each option.

“There have been available funding streams in the past for new high schools, including Dunfermline and Queen Anne High School whilst the new Levenmouth Academy received £23 million in Scottish Government funding. The Education Secretary has spoken of the need for young people to be educated in world class schools. Now is the time for Fife Council’s Administration to begin that process in Dunfermline and West Fife,” stated Cllr Leslie.

Our Press release has been published this morning. Please find the link here -

This week Fife Councillors will come together for the final Full Council meeting of 2017. For a new Councillor like myself, the past few months have been a huge learning curve - something I want to talk about but I will keep that for a later post. 

On Thursday I will put a Motion to full Council asking for the status of the school estate in Dunfermline & West Fife to be addressed. In that I refer to the need for three new high schools in the Dunfermline area. This is a long running issue and one in which I have spoken of on previous occasions on this site and in correspondence to local media. I made the decision to bring this to the final meeting of the year as it has become my belief that whilst the Administration do want to address the need for new schools in Dunfermline and West Fife, now that they are in a shared administration the calls of the urgency for this (along with the endless SNP/Labour "lets blame each other for nothing progressing on the school estate") have gone silent. Labour can no longer shift the blame to the Scottish Government now they are in the pocket of the SNP in Fife and the SNP can no longer shout that a Labour Administration in Fife is hopeless/useless/inept as they are their partners. 

Whilst the silence has deafened us all I have continued to push the question, whether it be on here, in the media or tacitly at the committee level where I have seen an opportunity to mention it.

Last Thursday the Dunfermline Press headline read that Woodmill High School would now be potentially 70 pupils over capacity and that pupils would find out where they would be placed almost through a lottery. I absolutely stand by my decision to support the proposed amendments to rezoning - which as a result has pushed all rezoning back by a year. A longer more thought out approach is required, one which will come back to Committee in the new year.

Myself and Cllr David J Ross had a letter featured in the same copy of the Dunfermline Press where we pressed the case for new schools - capacity and catchment is only one part of this argument - which I will be discussing further on Thursday but we also have to address the need for a school estate fit for the 21st century.

The wording of the Motion to Council reads:

"That Fife Council Education Directorate be asked to provide a report to full Council on all options available to fund three new high schools in Dunfermline & West Fife and produce a quarterly report on the status of each option.”
Proposed by Cllr Kathleen Leslie
Seconded by Cllr David J Ross

"Now is the time to act on new high schools"

"Plans announced earlier this month for an additional 240 homes near to Masterton Primary School in Dunfermline will, if approved, further add to the impending capacity crisis at Woodmill High School. Following councillors unanimously rejecting proposals by Council Officers to rezone Masterton pupils to Inverkeithing High School, there is the possibility Woodmill will be over capacity by 50 pupils in August 2018. More houses in Masterton will mean more families affected by the looming crisis.” 

The building of around 8,000 houses in Dunfermline over the past decade has seen a steady rise in the school population with the risk of over-capacity being recognised in 2015. We find it really quite incredible that house building has continued at the rate it has and the Council did not consider that a long-term solution to the school estate should have be sought
Capacity though is only one part of the problem. Dunfermline and West Fife needs new high schools. The current condition and suitability of Woodmill, St Columba’s and Inverkeithing means pupils are taught in classrooms that lack full Wifi access, have limited technology and suffer from leaking windows and roofs. Fife Council has £50 million allocated in its Capital Plan for new schools, but to move this forward, approaches must be made to the Scottish Government for the remainder of the money. 
Politicians from across political parties in Fife have spoken of the urgency for new high schools in Dunfermline and now is the time to act. The Council also needs to recognise and plan more effectively for the impact of extensive house building on local infrastructure
The Education Secretary has stated that schools should be part of a world class learning environment, and we completely agree. To achieve that pupils must be taught in modern buildings equipped for the 21st century, we urge the Administration to begin this process immediately."

Cllrs Kathleen Leslie & David J. Ross
Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party

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