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Home School: What the Dargavel Primary row means to Renfrewshire

Dargavel Primary has one third of the capacity it is expected to need. Stock image: Alamy

Home School: What the Dargavel Primary row means to Renfrewshire

Apparently homebuyers in Hamilton stay for an average of less than a year before flitting again.

The 333-day term is the shortest in the UK, according to a recent study by a removals firm.

Moving home, as we all know, is an absolute stress-fest and a great way to take your bank account down to its foundations. So what makes someone up sticks twice in the course of a year? I guess there are pull factors, and there are push factors.

In the new development of Dargavel, Renfrewshire, a blonde-bricked, pavement-light estate near Paisley, some residents are feeling the push. I’m not sure what the average tenure for residents is, but even as the builders continue construction, new street by new street, some of those already there are moving on. And as frustration continues over the cock-up with the area’s purpose-built primary school, which is just one third of the size it needs to be, some parents are considering their family’s futures.

“People are talking about putting their house up for sale,” said Dargavel Primary parent council chair Alan Kelly, because they don’t know where their kids will go to school.

It’s a story I’ve heard from several Dargavel residents who feel that they have been sold a pup.

The primary school, heavily marketed to prospective homeowners, opened last year with room for 548 pupils. But it’s far too wee and as many as 1,500 places could be needed in the coming years, Renfrewshire Council thinks. That’s still uncertain because the projection is based on just one year of live pupil data, but it has determined that another new school is needed at a cost of £45m. And to accommodate them from S1 onwards the local high school, Park Mains in Erskine, will need to be extended in a project expected to cost up to £30m.

It’s an expensive error, and one that comes with added headaches for education officials and parents, because new schools can’t be magicked up overnight – Dargavel Primary itself opened late after numerous delays. And so with demand expected to outstrip places by August next year, the plan is to give priority to children with siblings already in the school. And if it’s still oversubscribed at that point, names will go into a ballot and it’ll be down to the luck of the draw. Losers can look to nearby Bishopton Primary for lessons, but that’s little comfort to cheesed-off mortgage-holders.

So what’s gone wrong? An enquiry into the matter has found “the council failed at virtually every stage” and there was a “complete lack of professional leadership and oversight from within the education service, with reliance on calculations by junior staff and middle managers” who were “unfamiliar” with key issues and “unaware of their importance”. Senior education figures, it found, were “incompetent”.

“There were sufficient warning signs”, the report found, and it should have been “common sense” that a projected increase in school pupils of 30 per cent would be inadequate when the decision was taken to raise the number of houses built by 60 per cent.

“Millions were at stake for primary and secondary provision”, wrote review author David Bowles, an expert advisor on public sector governance. “I cannot comprehend the lack of professionalism in dealing with this matter.”

Council chief executive Alan Russell has issued an “unreserved apology in response and renewed his commitment to work with parents and carers to deliver on the recommendations and give all pupils the very best educational experience. 

“I am deeply sorry for the very serious historic mistakes made over a prolonged period and for the understandable distress caused to local communities in the area”, he said. “This is a very difficult report for the council and will be equally upsetting for the Dargavel community. I fully acknowledge the review findings and accept all its recommendations.” 

Work to progress a new primary school for 800 pupils in Dargavel has begun, the council says, and discussions are ongoing with landowners BAE to secure a site. 

The corporate giant paid for the existing school as part of the deal with the council to develop the site, which was once the site of a Royal Ordnance Factory and zoned for brownfield use.

The number of houses built there was increased after BAE suggested its initial project was “financially unviable”. Bowles wrote that there was a “lack of curiosity” at the council, conflicting data was ignored and it is “difficult to see” how the agreements involved “could have been handled in a more incompetent way”. Parent concerns were shrugged off, planning officers were “swayed” by education officers and elected members had their “concerns assuaged by the confidence expressed by” senior education officials, for whom they had “respect and regard”. It may be, Bowles found, that “inadequate corporate oversight” meant that “matters which may have warranted [elected] members' input were missed”.

The council has confirmed that none of the senior officers who contributed to the “significant school roll error” are still with the authority. In fact, local director of children’s services Steven Quinn is leaving that post to become chief executive of East Renfrewshire Council and parents have criticised local politicians for what they see as a failure to answer questions.

The current team, Renfrewshire Council says, is “fully committed” to “getting it right for the children and families of Dargavel and Bishopton”. Still the angry complaints continue at the school gates and on Whatsapp groups.

Dargavel doesn’t appear on that flitters’ list, but those who feel short-changed by their investment might give Hamilton a run for its money. 

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