Renfrewshire Council to spend £2m on new classrooms after new school building blunder

Millions of pounds will be spent on six modular classrooms at a Renfrewshire school after a short-term fix for capacity issues was approved.

A review has been ordered in the search for answers over botched sums which have sparked serious concerns about the size of Dargavel Primary School – less than a year after its doors opened.

Council chiefs have embarked upon a quest for a permanent solution and a report will be put before elected members in the early part of next year.

The saga emerged after analysis suggested space could be needed for as many as 1,100 pupils in the catchment in the future – a figure double the Bishopton school’s preferred maximum of 548.

The roll could soar to around 600 to 620 by August 2023 and even further, to between 685 and 705 the year after that, despite initial calculations predicting it would not exceed 430.

Councillor Emma Rodden, SNP education convener, told a special board meeting: “I want to assure you that my priority is to find a permanent solution that provides the best learning environment now and in the future for all children in Dargavel Village.

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Education convener Councillor Emma Rodden
Education convener Councillor Emma Rodden

“I’m very sorry for the upset that this is causing parents and carers. I also want to mention the head teacher Gerry Carlton and the school staff who I know have your support.

“I am conscious of the impact of the publicity surrounding this issue on them too and I want to extend my sincerest thanks to them for everything they are doing to reassure the school community.”

Elected members agreed the interim solution and that any probe should be an “external inquiry” during the course of the meeting.

Councillor Rodden said: “This review will establish what went wrong and why and will provide actions that we as a council can take to ensure that a mistake of this nature will not happen again.”

Parents expressed “major concerns” about potential overcrowding at the facility in Arrochar Drive and the agreed use of modular classrooms as an interim fix.

The school’s parent council issued a stinging statement which was circulated at the board meeting.

Alan Kelly, chair of Dargavel Primary School parent council, said: “There is outrage, anger and disappointment directed at Renfrewshire Council from the parent council, parents and wider community regarding this complete failure of the council to plan school provision properly.

“We have major concerns that overcrowding at the school, and accommodating children in modular buildings will negatively impact the learning experience of the children.

“There is no confidence that those people within Renfrewshire Council responsible for this terrible mistake are in fact capable of getting anything right moving forward.”

A council report confirmed research based on the current roll, known pre-school population within the catchment area and potential pace of housebuilding in Dargavel Village – expected to have 4,000 homes by 2034 – had found existing capacity would be “materially insufficient” to meet future demand.

The document also detailed that the original methodology used to project the roll was “inadequate” and “significantly understated” the scale of capacity needed to support primary education within the Dargavel catchment.

Labour group education spokesperson Councillor Gillian Graham
Labour group education spokesperson Councillor Gillian Graham
(Image: Paisley Daily Express)

Councillor Gillian Graham, Labour group education spokesperson, said: “You’ve seen the headlines – a monumental cock-up, a botched job and an astounding miscalculation.

“There’s no end to the superlatives that can be applied to what in essence has been a dereliction of duty by this SNP-led council over the last five years on this project.”

She claimed the error could end up costing taxpayers in Renfrewshire £20m and fired that the blunder was “entirely due to this council’s mismanagement”.

Steven Quinn, the council’s director of children’s services, has apologised to those affected by the situation.

The modular classrooms, which will have room for up to 198 pupils, will be introduced over the summer break. They will cost around £2m. The school only opened in January of this year after delays to construction because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Daily Record – Paisley