Population fluctuations can affect a whole range of services. Schools can be particularly affected from direct results of overcrowding if numbers of children locally increase, or more controversially from school attendance falling if those numbers decrease over the years. This latter effect can lead to difficult decisions where it is almost impossible to balance the shorter term economic arguments for closure with the longer term effects on local families if their school goes. But overcrowding also creates its own pressures, leading to young people not necessarily being able to access the school nearest them.
In Wester Hailes local statistics showed during the late 1970s and 1980s that the population had a large percentage of young people of school age. The Ten Years On survey indicated a figure of 32% being under the age of 15. The area was facing a challenge in 1979 when it became apparent that the recently opened Wester Hailes Education Centre would be unable to properly accommodate all the local young people who would need secondary education by the 1980s. The Sentinel raised the alarm in August 1979 when it became clear that one of the options being looked at by the Education Department was to rezone one of area’s five primary schools, sending local children back to Forrester or Firhill. You can read the story in full here.
The issue was highlighted by the paper not only because of the effect rezoning would have for local families, but because no-one could understand why this problem had not been identified earlier by the Education Department. The Sentinel itself had reported on the issue as far back as November 1976. It also called for local action, recognising that with the council being unsure of how to resolve the matter, there was an opportunity to influence decision making. A public meeting was organised at Dumbryden Primary School, attended by 200 people, to discuss the possible solutions to the issue which you can see in full here. The meeting resulted in a working party being set up to organise further public meetings.
As word spread across Wester Hailes, people came out in force to oppose re-zoning. Meanwhile the Education Department favoured the cheapest option of re-zoning Sighthill Primary School using the argument that this had been opened before any of the other Wester Hailes schools and could therefore be seen as separate to the Wester Hailes development. In response, Calders Tenants Association called a public meeting where parents pointed out that if their children had to attend Foresters rather than the WHEC, it would not be the cheapest option for them. It was agreed the Education Department needed to know just how strong local feelings on this issue were. You can read more about the meeting here.
In February 1980, the Sentinel headline was “Victory”. Seventy Calders parents had attended the meeting of the Education Committee to make their views known on rezoning. Recognising the strength of feeling involved, the Education Committee agreed to rule out rezoning. The success of the campaign demonstrated the ability local residents had in taking action when faced with a lack of official planning. It also showed the importance of the community taking a united front on the issue. As Joyce Flockhart, chair of the Calder Parents Action Group said
“The people on the deputation secured a victory, but they learned a few lessons as well. We left that meeting, knowing that their protests and presence had weighed heavily on the outcome. To win anything from the powers- that- be, we must stand together and fight with a united voice.”