Known to Argyll and to the Argyll Rural Schools Network from a later stage of the last Schools War, is Niall Campbell, who fought a virtually single handed campaign to support his Parent Council against East Dunbartonshire Council, in saving their rural school, Baldernock, in the Milngavie area, from closure.
One of Niall Campbell’s achievements has been forcing the admission from the council that both Baldernock and Torrance schools [now a potential merger] are in fact classed as rural schools; and that the council did and does benefit from the additional Grant Aided Expenditure funding in respect of their pupil rolls.
In the predatory custom of local authorities, Baldernock is back in the lists again this time. Niall Campbell is working round the clock on research and lobbying. He has now doubled his team – working with one more active and very capable supporter from the parent council.
Mr Campbell has also made common cause with David Bauld, campaigning for his small local school of Gartconner, in the Kirkintilloch, Lenzie and the Villages area of East Dunbartonshire.
The Excel cell revelations – school disposal values
The proof of the value of this solidarity and teamwork came when David Bauld, an Excel spreadsheet familiar, got to work on some documents released to his campaign by East Dunbartonshire Council.
He immediately clocked the presence of hidden cells in the spreadsheet, went exploring and found disposal values for all of the schools considered in the revision proposals for the primary school estate.
These were – in value order by school – with the administrative area last:
- St Matthews £1,999,000 [Bishopbriggs]
- Baljaffray £1,683,400 [Bearsden]
- St Helens £1,518,000 [Bishopbriggs]
- Killermont £1,219,050 [Bearsden]
- Mosshead £1,212,650 [Bearsden]
- Balmuildy £1,210,000 [Bishopbriggs]
- Wester Cleddens £1,199,000 [Bishopbriggs]
- St Andrews £1,078,000 [Bearsden]
- Castlehill £1,019,100 [Bearsden]
- Meadowburn £1,017,500 [Bishopbriggs]
- Woodhill £1,006,500 [Bishopbriggs]
- Bearsden £1,000,000 [Bearsden]
- Craigdhu £978,000 [Milngavie]
- Clober £945,000 [Milngavie]
- Auchinairn £924,000 [Bishopbriggs]
- Milngavie £900,000 [Milngavie]
- Lenzie £750,000 [Kirkintilloch, Lenzie and the Villages]
- Westerton £726,000 [Bearsden]
- Colquhoun Park £693,000 [Bearsden]
- Oxgang £679,000 [Kirkintilloch, Lenzie and the Villages]
- Torrance £672,000 Milngavie]
- Holy Family £668,500 [Kirkintilloch, Lenzie and the Villages]
- Harestanes £513,000 [Kirkintilloch, Lenzie and the Villages]
- St Flannans £495,000 [Kirkintilloch, Lenzie and the Villages]
- St Joseph’s £426,000 [Milngavie]
- Craighead £371,000 [Kirkintilloch, Lenzie and the Villages]
- Hillhead £292,500 [Kirkintilloch, Lenzie and the Villages]
- Baldernock £250,000 [Milngavie]
- Lennoxtown £234,500 [Kirkintilloch, Lenzie and the Villages]
- St Agatha’s £200,000 [Kirkintilloch, Lenzie and the Villages]
- Twechar £170,000 [Kirkintilloch, Lenzie and the Villages]
- Gartconner £100,000 [Kirkintilloch, Lenzie and the Villages]
Questions arising on competence and fiscal responsibility
There are serious questions to be asked of some of these valuations.
For example, Bearsden Primary is given a disposal value of only £1 million. The Milngavie Herald has quoted the sale of the site at Bearsden Secondary school as raising £25 million a few years ago.
The revealing Excel document also shows how much East Dunbartonshire Council will need to borrow to achieve what is proposed in their primary school estate review. Overall they will need to borrow £58.5 million, which, with the modest £8 million expected from disposals, produces the £67 million in the school programme element of the council budget announced on 14th February.
Why have they so substantially undervalued the land from potential disposals, proposing to borrow far more than they need?
This level of questionable competence and lack of engagement with the issues would suggest that other viable options that would have kept open schools like Gartconner or Baldernock went unexplored.
The council itself has said that releasing the land values [now discovered by the savvy David Bauld] would prejudice any income the council might make from the sale of school land.These values will certainly encourage prospective bidders for any eventual disposals to go in much lower than market value. This lists shows all the council is expecting from such disposals – and that itself ought to raise an investigation around any potential improprieties in such a picture.
The most generous interpretation of this is major incompetence with or without fiscal irresponsibility. This appears to be a familiar public sector case of selling cheaply [and to whom?], borrowing more money than is necessary and then cutting back on basic services like education to pay for it.
The council offers two proposals for Baldernock, both involving the closure of the school:
- a merger with Milngavie, Clober and Baldernock primary schools in a new build school at the Clober site;
- a cross-ward merger with Torrance, on the existing Torrance premises. At first this proposal option was for a new build at Torrance but that option is no longer being considered for obvious reasons.
The proposal for Gartconner is a multischool merger on another site and with or without the special unit to be moved from Merkland school:
- a merger of Gartconner with Harestanes, Hillhead and Oxgang Primary Schools as a new build school; this could be at either the Oxgang or St Flannan’s site. [It should be noted that both of these sites are also options to host the merger of St Agatha's and St Flannan's primary school in a new build school.]
- the area proposal for Kirkintilloch, Lenzie and the Villages shows Merkland Primary school pupils to be accommodated in a specialist unit within one of three new builds resulting from the suite of proposed merges, including the one for Gartconner at Oxgang or St Flannans.
The disposal values of the schools involved – given above – adds to the necessary interrogation of these proposals.
The Baldernock position
The Baldernock campaign has highlighted the fact that East Dunbartonshire has been consulting on a possible Baldernock closure during the Moratorium of Rural Schools which was agreed by COSLA with the Scottish Government.
Parliamentary Question ‘S4W-015053’ lodged by Niall Campbell’s MSP, Fiona McLeod, who has been very helpful to him, confirmed that Baldernock Primary School, as an Accessible Rural School, is covered by the moratorium. This was also confirmed by letter by Michael Russell MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning.
Small school funding of £116k (£2,832 per pupil) per annum via Grant Aided Expenditure (GAE) was not taken into account in the presentation to councillors of the case to close Baldernock. This should have been deducted from the cost per pupil to give a true comparison of the cost to the council of running Baldernock.
Moreover, Niall Campbell has seen £1,500 per pupil mysteriously added to the Cost per Pupil for Baldernock school in 2011.
This additional GAE funding for rural schools – which the council can use to support borrowing – was not mentioned in the first IBP report to East Dunbartonshire Councillors, on which they voted.
If this school closes, the council loses the £116k Baldernock-specific small school grant. This potential loss of funding was also not in the IBP paper to the Councillors – and in a second paper it was mentioned only as ‘changes to the profile …. would influence this additional funding’.
Errors made in capacity measurement the last time appear to have been addressed this time by the expedient of changing all the room sizes for fixed traditional style rooms.
Rona Hamilton , on the Committee of Baldernock Parent Council, asked why the figures have changed this time around. She has been told it was a genuine mistake. John Simmons from EDC has been seen around the school with a tape measure, measuring classrooms.
2011 documentation released under FoI showed: ’3 class rooms (33sqm, 45.9sqm, 67.5sqm): two smaller ones, usually used for younger pupils, at 1.7sqm per child and the larger classroom, used for older pupils, at 2.0sqm per child. This works out that the functional capacity for each classroom is: 19; 27 and 33 for the three classrooms listed. The working capacity for the school is 79.’
2012 documentation, the most recent made, released under FoI showed: ”1.7 square metres per child used for calculating both working and functional capacity of classrooms.’ This was arrived at from tabular data reading:
The change in the measurements and the resulting capacities led to in a further 4 pupil spaces being added to the functional capacity, worsening the underoccupancy percentage.
In a further FoI the Council insisted that the same capacity measure has been used throughout the primary estate for years. Always 1.7sqm for traditional and 1.5sqm of open plan.
Rona Hamilton is currently in contact with the Council’s solicitor who has said that the changes in measurements and the calculation change are erroneous (i.e. the previous ones were wrong).
Their solicitor does not feel that the Council need to say anything more than this but is to ask Education Services if they can shed any light on why these changes have been effected. Ms Hamilton has made the point that these measurements have been in use for a substantial time and were used in the previous school estate review. She is asking about the impact on consistency in changing these figures for the purposes of the current review – and has submitted a very specific FoI for exact methods of measuring and instruments used.
The equally critical School roll projection figures – in bearing upon future planning – show variations which, in their progressive pattern, suggest manipulation rather than error.
Updated projections on school rolls put to a special meeting of this Council on the 10th December 2012 were still wrong for Baldernock. Page 6 of this downloadable document here states, at Paragraph 2.7 ‘Roll projections contained in all previous reports have been updated according to the school census figures at September 2012.’ On Page 17 the document quotes this figure as 41 pupils at the school – there are currently 43.
Roll projections have changed again. Consultants IBP, in their report to council, used in the first primary review in 2009′s roll projections – showing Baldernock increasing to around 60 in 2020. In the IBP report to Council on 7th November, roll projections changed to 42 (projected under occupancy 47%). By 10th December these had mysteriously changed yet again – to 36 (projected under occupancy 54%).
The wider community has not been consulted about the closure of Baldernock. The Parent Council had asked Council Officers for a second consultation on its portakabin in 2011 – refused due to the pressure of local elections and the Government’s working group on the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010. Niall Campbell had also asked for this previously, in his Capacity as Chair of the Parent Council. This too was refused, on the untested presumption that the Council would have to pay for it.
Niall Campbell also discovered that Baldernock’s access to the EU Funded LEADER programme [for a Dual Purpose Community build] had been blocked by the council.
With EDC instead directing LEADER funding into urban project’s like Kirkintilloch’s Canal Marina, they have seriously diverted the stated purpose of this fund.
Only Twechar, as a Rural settlement is afforded EU Rural funding alongside projects in the urban areas of Lennoxtown , Milton of Campsie and Kirkintilloch.
The IBP consultants’ report carried no alternative to closure for Baldernock. Following the first IBP report, the school’s Parent Council agreed with council officials that additional options for the school would be considered – they were not.
There are no refurbishment options – the council decided not to apply for Scottish Futures Trust funding for refurbishment.
One senior council official was actually unaware that the Scottish Futures Trust could fund refurbishment.
The only option for a community building estimated at £600k was dismissed. As there has been no consultation with the community, assumptions have been made as to the size and potential use of various buildings – assumptions= which cannot be validated as accurate since no one has been asked about them.
The Community Council carried out its own consultation in 2012, with 265 questionnaires distributed (all the households in the parish) and of the 157 – 59% – who responded the results were:
- 81% (127) said Yes, Baldernock does need a Primary school
- 80% (125) said Yes, Baldernock needs a Community Centre
- 76% (119) would support a project to develop the Primary School to include a Community Centre.
In the past 10 years the only energy efficiency measure the council has made for the school has been to reduce the temperature from 21 degrees to 19 degrees [a council decision taken in 2005 to reduce the temperature in all council buildings - but the heaters have no thermostats]; and in the last 2 years, to install automatic meter readers.
No insulation or other measures energy conservation measures have been deployed, despite the local Cut the Carbon group meeting with the council and suggesting various ways to reduce energy use.
Windows regularly have to be opened to let heat out and external lighting is on 24hrs a day.
There is a newly clarified obligation on Education Ministers at call-in of local authority school closure decisions following Lady Paton’s Opinion in her finding against Scottish Ministers in their appeal against Lord Brailsford’s earlier Judicial Review Opinion in favour of Western Isles Council.
The Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education, which met last week, has yet to report. This is now expected likely to happen by the end of this month, March 2013.)
In the face of these matters, the full East Dunbartonshire Council meeting is on the 27th March and will be making decisions on the primary school estate review.
The Baldernock school campaign, with reason on its side, sees this as an unfair and scrambled process based on incorrect, incomplete and concealed information.
Baldernock Parent Council has written to the Chief Executive of East Dunbartonshire Council, Gerry Crones, to call for the Baldernock Primary School to be removed from the Primary Estate Review process until there is clarity regarding the legal situation and the responsibilities of the council.
The Gartconner position
Gartconner Primary School is another small local school that East Dunbartonshire Council want to sacrifice on the altar of savings – but, as is far from uncommon, it is now quite clear that the posited savings are not accurate.
Those campaigning to save it the school say:
‘The revenue to be raised by closing Gartconner and its sister school St Agatha’s by land sales is negligible – because they sit in a greenbelt area, so development opportunities are limited.
‘These 2 schools have a very close relationship, due to the outstanding work of their staff- yet the council have shown no regard to the impact of the severance of these these schools one from another, instead preferring to concentrate on the revenue that can be raised.
‘The council have also shown no real commitment to investigating a joint campus on the Gartconner site in the existing Gartconner building, instead using highly inflated refurbishment figures to justify it as a non-viable option.
‘The revenue raised from the Gartconner/St Agatha’s site will allow the council to build a new merged school at Lenzie and raise £750,000 by selling the land of the old Lenzie Primary School.
‘This pattern is repeated across the authority with the council closing perfectly good schools in order to use the savings to support borrowing to build super schools and thereafter to raise millions from land sales.
‘This is no more evident than in Bishopbriggs where 6 schools are being forced down to 2 and will raise over £3million in revenue.’
And as we have seen in the council’s disposal values quoted above, they are strangely aiming to raise much less from these disposals than, in many cases, market value would indicate.
There is also a major missing element in the Gartconner, case as presented to East Dunbartonshire Council.
It makes no mention of what appears to be the removal of two major nursery provisions, currently available at two of the schools in the proposed merger of Gartconner, Harestanes, Hilllhead and Oxgang.
Wherever the Merkland special unit were to be located, one would expect, from the current situation, to see a parallel nursery facility capable of delivering support for 90 tinies a session.
There is a nursery attached to Hillhead with provision for 60 children both morning and afternoon; and a nursery attached to Gartconner with provision for 30 children, morning and afternoon.
Nothing in any of the proposals made for Kirkintilloch, Lenzie and the Villages indicates any nursery provision whatsoever. This is a matter of serious concern, either in terms of the council’s disguised intentions to discontinue such provision; or, more likely, in terms of the degree of incompetence in those putting these proposals together.
Gartconner and Baldernock have been around for some considerable time, Baldernock since around 1873 with their 140th anniversary this year; and Gartconner almost a contemporary, dating from 1875.
Gartconner today is in a new build from 1974. St Agatha’s, ‘next door’, is the original Gartconner Primary building, with the current school built when the roll outgrew the original building. David Bauld’s wife, Lynda, has applied for listed building status for the original Gartconner building at St Agatha’s.
Gartconner is an obvious candidate for straightforward refurbishment. It is in no state to suggest a need for demolition of disposal.
It’s built on a quadrant system with each quadrant having access to external areas, seeing, for example the P1 and P2/3 classes with direct access to their own garden area.
The school also has an all weather multi-sports pitch, funded through a lottery grant.
There are little or no benefits to Gartconner from a new build school.