PCC Feb 2017 News

The Cole Inquiry into the Construction of Edinburgh Schools.

Along with the release of his report, which can be found here, Prof. John Cole presented his findings to a full Edinburgh Council meeting this afternoon.  (The webcast of this meeting can be found here).

I have yet to read the report in full, but from what I gather so far, it is a comprehensive report and has established 10 sets of recommendations (approx. 40 in all).  We should thank the Council for supporting it, and Prof Cole for his thorough work.

The crux of the building problem – in a nutshell – seems to be inadequate inspection during build: i.e., it is more cost effective to trust that builders will adhere to best practice rather than employ someone to ensure that they do.

From what I have read so far, however, I, and I suspect most parents, will feel that the Council’s handling of the initial collapse was not entirely appropriate, as stated in bold in section 12.1.6 of the report.  Section 12.1.1 invites us to believe that a wall (9 tonnes of it) falling off the side of a school building in a fairly common storm was assumed by the authorities to be nothing more than a bit of localised storm damage, rather than an exceptional occurrence.  Cllr Gavin Corbett managed to ask Prof Cole why the school reopened three days after the initial failure during the Q&A session after Prof Cole’s presentation. Prof Cole indicated that the Council were likely motivated to minimise disruption. Personally, I feel that while minimising disruption is laudable, it does not trump safety, and hindsight has nothing to do with it.  While it is true that, as events transpired, the safety of the building was found to be in question (and more disruption was caused at Oxgangs as a result), discovering this should have been a priority, not a rearguard action.  Not carrying out a more robust investigation from the outset (which would, at the least, involve drilling a few holes around the walls to check the tie embedment) – seems counter to engineering judgement, good governance, and basic common sense.

Reopening the school early without a robust structural assessment is the sorest issue amongst parents – parents believe risks were being taken with lives.  One of Prof Cole’s recommendations (9.2) was that the Council should hold a “Parent’s and Schools review of management of closure”.  If the Council act on this recommendation, one of our priorities would be to ensure this question is addressed.  However, if you feel concerned about this issue, can I suggest that you address your concerns to your local Councillor.

Putting things in perspective, this is the only exception I have to what is otherwise, on first inspection, a thorough piece of work which makes solid recommendations and addresses the key issues with, not just Oxgangs – though we perhaps endured most injuriously, but all affected Edinburgh schools, and probably most public building works in general.

If you have any issues or points you’d like the Parent Council to raise regarding this report, then please use the info on the “About Us” page to get in touch.

Inspection Report Summary Findings

The following notes are from our Parent Council meeting on January 31st.

Mrs Walshe went through some of the background to the inspection, details of what the inspectors were looking for and how the school was embracing the findings within its strategic plan for improvement.

To date, the Inspection Report, Additional Inspection Evidence and Summarised Inspection Findings can all be accessed via the Education Scotland portal.  The headline findings in the Inspection report are that Oxgangs was evaluated as “Very Good” in two categories, “Good” in four categories and “Satisfactory” in two categories.  These evaluations, in and of themselves, do not tell the parent very much and interested parents should read the “Summarised Inspection Findings” for a more detailed assessment.

Mrs Walshe indicated that Oxgangs was the first school in Edinburgh to be inspected under the new inspection regime.  The results for other Edinburgh schools will be published in due course.  The new inspection regime is based upon the Scottish Government’s drive for attainment under the “National Improvement Framework”, “Curriculum for Excellence” and “Getting it Right for Every Child”.

Parents expressed concern that the school did not receive “Good”, or better, evaluations in all categories.  Mrs Walshe stated that Oxgangs was a good school and that the findings in the “Summarised Inspection Findings” point to many strengths.  The fact that the inspection team were not seeking a follow up inspection also indicated that they were confident the school was on the right track.  Mrs Walshe stated that the School staff were already deploying teaching interventions to address the three stated areas of improvement, and were looking beyond this to a strategic approach that would address the increasingly demanding attainment goals set by Government.  Mrs Walshe indicated that the school staff were committed to improving attainment.

Parents expressed concern that the inspection had taken place too soon after the school reopened, and that the school had been given insufficient time to re-establish best teaching practice across the school.  Mrs Walshe indicated that the inspectors had recognised the extraordinary circumstances of last year and stated that the school needed to move forward and build on these findings.

Parents expressed a view that it was difficult for them to look passed the “headline” assessments as they had no professional awareness of the inspection framework.  Mrs Walshe indicated that, if any parent wished, she would be happy to answer their queries about any aspect of the inspection.

Tech Clubs and Parent Involvement

Another matter that was discussed at the Parent Council meeting was initiating a Tech based after school club.  These sort of activities come under the umbrella term of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths): engaging children with these activities is thought to be the best hope for their, and our national, future prosperity.  So far our ideas include: e2 Young Engineers – a Lego based activity, Code Club – which involves coding devices such as the BBC Micro bit and the Raspberry Pi to do fun things.  We think there might be other ideas and we want to try and capture as many of them as we can before we decide which we should pursue.  If you have any ideas for a Tech based / STEM after-school type activity, preferably one that is associated with an organisational framework, then please let us know via the “Get Involved” survey on the surveys page, or, contact us directly using the details on the “About Us” page.