The closure of one school near Hawick was confirmed this week, and more could be set to follow now a radical overhaul of education provision in the region has got under way.
Further decisions on primary school closures and amalgamations are expected over the next two years as Scottish Borders Council’s entire school estate, serving nearly 16,000 pupils, comes under scrutiny.
Councillors this week agreed to invoke statutory consultation measures for the permanent closure of Hobkirk Primary School, near Bonchester Bridge, following its mothballing in November.
The closures of two other primaries, at Ettrick and in Berwickshire, were also confirmed.
Schools in and around Hawick will be among the first to come under scrutiny as part of the review now beginning.
“There is a consensus that we can reduce the number of schools based on school roll figures and projections,” said Donna Manson, the council’s service director for children and young people, in a report to the authority’s executive on Tuesday.
“There is a clear message that the council must take action to ensure the resources we have in these challenging fiscal times are used wisely and efficiently.
“Stakeholders have identified that we need to rationalise the school estate of nine secondaries and 60 primaries and reduce the number of schools in order to achieve best value for the resources we have.”
Pre-consultation meetings were held in March at the region’s secondary schools, each with its own cluster of feeder primaries, and stakeholders were given facts and figures about schools rolls, the condition and capacity of buildings and the cost per pupil in each catchment area.
Based on feedback from those meetings, the clusters around Jedburgh Grammar, Hawick High, Galashiels Academy and Eyemouth High have been prioritised for consideration during the first part of the review, starting this month and lasting up to a year.
“This will allow a more focused engagement with key stakeholders and act as a preparation for any relevant formal proposals that may be brought forward,” said Ms Manson.
Some 40 people had attended the Hawick High cluster engagment event, with 63 people contributing to the online questionnaire and nearly 50% of the responses coming from those associated with the town’s Trinity Primary School.
There were mixed views about educational provision in the Hawick cluster, with some respondents saying that there are too many schools and agreeing that they should be rationalised and others arguing in favour of the status quo.
The view expressed by most respondents in the Hawick cluster area is that a number of its schools are in need of upgrading.
The highest response in the Hawick High cluster was from stakeholders at Trinity requesting that primary catchment areas in the town be reviewed.
Some Trinity stakeholders and those from several other Borders schools felt changes made to school catchments a number of years ago should be reversed and the old catchment boundaries reinstated.
Families from the old catchment boundary addresses tended to still attend these schools, but entitlement to transport was an issue and that had led to falling rolls.
Councillors also endorsed a simultaneous review of the region’s four Roman Catholic schools – in Hawick, Selkirk, Peebles and Galashiels – all of which are running under capacity and have difficulties recruiting teaching staff.
Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP John Lamont is urging the council to think twice before shutting schools, saying: “While it is right that Scottish Borders Council looks at whether the current school provision in the Borders is fit for purpose, parents will be rightly concerned that this review may be an excuse for school closures.
“The council must focus on the needs and wishes of local communities, and any consultation must put these views at the forefront.
“The loss of a local school is a big blow for any rural community, as well as a huge disruption for pupils.
“Schools in rural areas can be the lifeblood of villages and communities, providing an opportunity for children to learn near to where they live but also providing a focal point for rural life.”