More Than Just a School

Posted by in October's Magazine

David Barnes puts the case for kids who say, “We are not sardines.”

Vikki Spence is the public face of the campaign against council plans to close Fort Primary School. She is smart, eloquent, engaging, passionate and reasonable. She is not chasing an ego boost or trying to score political points – she is just a mother who believes that the authorities have underestimated both the value of the school to its community and the important job it does with some seriously vulnerable kids. If leaving things as they are is Plan A, and moving the kids en-masse to Trinity Primary is Plan B, then Mrs. Spence wants the Council to consider a Plan C.


“We accept that the school is half empty and something has to change. So we have come up with a draft compromise proposal, which we submitted to the Education, Children & Families Committee at the start of September. What we have suggested is that a large section of the Council proposal is adopted, with the Victoria Park Child and Family Centre being relocated to the infant building at Fort, while the primary one to three classes are moved into the main building. This would create a smaller Fort School, with fewer spare places and lower overheads. It won’t save anything on staffing, but we question whether that should be an issue, especially given that the government is currently spending millions of pounds on training teachers who then can’t get a job.”

Mrs. Spence is frustrated by the Councils repeated reference to low occupancy levels at the school, pointing out that council statistics are based on maximum class sizes of 30 to 33 depending on age, while Fort’s status as a Positive Action school requires smaller groupings, and the SNP are currently pushing hard on their manifesto pledge to reduce class sizes to a maximum of 18 during the first three years of school.

The Curriculum of Excellence requires extra space and for kids to work in smaller groups, that has been easy for us to implement because we have the space and the teaching resources to do that. I don’t know how they are going to manage at Trinity when occupancy levels are expected to be around 94 percent.”

She is annoyed that attainment levels, whilst not officially meant to be a factor, are often mentioned in debates on the future of the school. “If you compare our attainment figures with all the schools in the city then we are below average, but we have the highest rate of free meal entitlement in the city and if you compare us against the other 17 schools with more than 50% free meal entitlement, then we’re 10% above the average in reading and math and only 1% below average for writing. The school is doing well in extreme circumstances, but is a very different environment to Trinity.”

“If the Fort closes and the kids go to Trinity then the majority will be fine, but not all of them,” she warns. “And it is not about the many, it is about the few. There are children at Fort who come from very difficult backgrounds, which is why we have extra funding – and are able to do things that Trinity can’t. For example, the school has a full-time classroom assistant in every class, there’s a learning assistant in the office, and there is one full-time and one part-time Support for Learning teacher for about 100 children. Trinity has one part-time Support for Learning teacher for 300 children. They don’t have the need, but they also don’t have the space to provide extra support staff.”

“We have a play therapy room at Fort, it is available to any child who arrives at school and, perhaps because of something that has gone on at home, is not in a good frame of mind. Either you make that child stay in class and disrupt all the other children or, because we have enough staff, the child can go to this separate room, relax, and come back when they are ready to learn.”

There’s a family room which is used by outside agencies to work with parents, and the school use it to run activities for parents and children together. The Parental Involvement Act has been very easy to implement at Fort because it was something we were doing already. Also, the future of the Fort Community Wing will be endangered without the school attached. They run a lot of after school clubs working with children that don’t otherwise engage in community learning and development.

At the moment the kids pass the wing on leaving school and come in, if these kids have to go somewhere else to attend groups, the ones who need it most won’t go. And Fort Nursery will lose its management structure. The tagline for our campaign is Fighting For Fort – More than just a school. We really do believe that to be the case.”

The campaign team must finalise and submit their counter-proposal by 16th October; thereafter they will have one last chance to address the City Chambers before a decision is made on 17th December. Money and party politics are bound to play a key role in how that vote goes, but the issue is much more complex than that. This is about what schools mean to the communities they exist in, and how they should tackle the challenge of improving the lives of the young people they serve.

2 responses to “More Than Just a School”

  1. Mel Watson says:

    The kind of article I like to see in the leither.

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