24/09/2009

Petition to Refurbish Harris Academy


My colleagues Jim McGovern MP, Marlyn Glen MSP and Councillor Laurie Bidwell and myself have joined together to launch a petition to refurbish Harris Academy.


Petition to Refurbish Harris Academy


A petition calling for the refurbishment of Harris Academy was launched today. The petition, which is sponsored by Dundee West MP Jim McGovern, Dundee-based MSP Marlyn Glen, Labour Education spokesperson on Dundee City Council Councillor Laurie Bidwell and local West End Councillor Richard McCready, calls for the Scottish Government and Dundee City Council to prioritise funding for the comprehensive refurbishment of Harris Academy.

Dundee West MP Jim McGovern said, 'I have said before that I think the case for Harris Academy being the next major school building project in Dundee is overwhelming. It is important that local people make their voices heard on this important issue. I would urge anyone who wants to see Harris Academy refurbished to sign the petition. '


Dundee-based MSP Marlyn Glen joined her colleagues saying, 'Harris Academy needs refurbished, I hope that the Scottish Government will work with Dundee City Council to find a means to refurbish it.'


Labour's Education spokesperson Councillor Laurie Bidwell said, 'Since I raised this issue in the press on Monday I have been inundated with messages of support, many people have asked what they can do to show support for the refurbishment of Harris Academy. This petition gives people the opportunity to make their views known. The former Labour-led Administration in Dundee had an ambitious programme of school building and refurbishment. The SNP said they would match Labour's building programme 'brick for brick' Labour has developed the proposals to refurbish Harris Academy, the plan is there, the question is do the SNP support investment in our young people.'


West End Councillor Richard McCready said, 'I am very keen to see Harris Academy refurbished. Clearly, Harris Academy would have been the previous Administration's next priority. Local people in the West End expect investment in Harris Academy. Investing in Harris Academy would be good for the young people who study there, it would be good for the teachers who work there, it would be good for the West End to have improved facilities there and it would be a welcome boost to the city's economy by providing jobs in the refurbishment process.'

The petition can be found on-line at
www.harrispetition.org.uk

Welcome for Progress on Railway Station

Reports in today's Courier suggest that some progress is being made with regard to refurbishing Dundee's Railway Station. Dundee West MP Jim McGovern has been leading the charge on this important issue, you can read his views here. You can see my views as one of the local councillors as well as the views of my colleague Councillor Tom Ferguson, Labour's spokesperson for City Development below.

Welcome for progress on Railway Station

Labour today welcomed plans to revamp Dundee Railway Station. Labour's City Development spokesperson, Councillor Tom Ferguson and local West End Councillor Richard McCready, have been calling for action at the station.

Councillor Tom Ferguson said, 'Dundee Station has been an eyesore for too long. It provides a dreadful welcome to the city and gives the wrong first impression. I welcome proposals to invest in the station. Network Rail must invest in the East Coast line north of Edinburgh. Dundee should have a railway station that befits a major Scottish city, this needs a commitment from everyone concerned.'


Councillor Richard McCready said, 'As the local councillor I am pleased to see progress on the railway station. I will be seeking a briefing from the Director of City Development about the plans. I am a regular user of Dundee Railway Station and I am absolutely convinced that if it the station was a more pleasant place more people would use the trains. Dundee Station needs investment I have seen investment going on across Scotland and I have been unhappy that Dundee has been left out. My colleague Jim McGovern MP has led the campaign for the station to be refurbished and it is good to see a start to the process. The station has been a poor advert for the city for too long, action is required and it is good to see progress being made. I expect Network Rail to deliver.'

23/09/2009

George Nicoll Barnes MP


This afternoon I attended the unveiling of a plaque in honour of George Nicoll Barnes MP on the side of Lochee Library. Barnes was born in Lochee High Street in 1859, he was the Member of Parliament for Glasgow Blackfriars (the Gorbals) from 1906 until 1922. This means that my great-grandfather voted for him! Barnes was the leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party from 1910-11. He was also the first Pensions Minister, appointed in 1916.
His background was as a trade union activist and the events took place today as a result of the efforts of the Dundee Trades' Council. As a historian I am always happy to see Dundee's history celebrated, it is important that we remember the struggles that have gone in the past.
It was also worth spending a little time reflecting on the career of former STUC General Secretary Bill Spiers who died today.

Class Size Reduction in Primary Schools - Another SNP Broken Promise on Education

Today the SNP Government announced that they had given up on another manifesto promise. My colleague Laurie Bidwell, Labour's Education spokesperson on Dundee City Council, has made his views known about this on his blog. This is reported on in tonight's Evening Telegraph. Clearly, people who voted SNP in 2007 will feel let down, this is yet another policy pledge which has been scrapped.

Please find below the response from Labour's Scottish Education Spokesperson Rhona Brankin MSP.


HUMILIATION FOR SALMOND AS SNP ABANDON CLASS SIZE PLEDGE

HYSLOP’S LOST ALL CREDIBILITY - LABOUR.


Scottish Labour said today that the decision by the SNP to adopt a 25 pupil per class in Primary 1 rather than a 18 maximum for Primary 1,2 and 3 was a ‘personal humiliation’ for First Minister Alex Salmond.

Alex Salmond told the Scottish Parliament in September 2007 that the 18 pupil maximum pledge for Primary 1 to 3 (1)would be completed by May 2011 (see note 2). That position now has lost ‘all credibility’ according to Labour.

The Education Secretary announced today that rather than legislating for class sizes of 18 in primary one to three instead the SNP will legislate for class sizes of 25 in Primary 1 only.

Scottish Labour’s education spokeswoman Rhona Brankin said:

“The First Minister told the chamber with no equivocation that his class size pledge would be delivered in the lifetime of this Parliament. It will not and he should make it clear it will not. Parents, pupils and teachers deserve the truth. This is a personal humiliation for him.

“I find it astonishing that Fiona Hyslop can go in front of TV cameras and try and bluff out what is a huge policy u-turn by the Nationalists. She isn’t fooling anyone. The 18 or less class size pledge has been taken out today and quietly shot.

“This is a pledge that the SNP campaigned on which will not be delivered. As with guaranteeing two hours of PE, maintaining teacher numbers and matching Labour’s school building brick for brick the SNP say one thing but deliver something else entirely.

“Fiona Hyslop has had chance after chance and has produced failure after failure. She has lost all credibility. She needs to consider her position and make way for someone that will put parents, pupils and teachers first.”

ENDS

NOTES

1. “We will reduce class sizes in Primary 1, 2 and 3 to eighteen pupils or less to give children more time with their teacher at this vital stage of their development.” SNP 2007 Election Manifesto, page 52.
2. “ Hugh Henry (Paisley South) (Lab): The First Minister promised in his manifesto that he would reduce to 18 class sizes for primaries 1 to 3. I know teachers and others who voted for him on the basis of that promise. Can he confirm that his promise will be delivered in the lifetime of this parliamentary session?
The First Minister: Yes, I can and that is why we have made early announcements to that effect.” Scottish Government’s Programme Statement, Official Report, 5 th September, 2007.

22/09/2009

Harris Academy Parent Council

Tonight I attended a meeting of Harris Academy Parent Council. Each of the West End councillors takes a turn to be at this important meeting. It is always good to hear about the excellent work which is going on at the school. A range of concerned parents, teachers and the school captains attend the meeting. Tonight the rector, Mr Thewliss gave a presentation on exam results. It is good to hear that he and his staff continue to work hard to improve results. It is important to focus on improving results but it is also important to remember that the exam results we were discussing represent great achievements and hard work by young people. There was also some discussion about the proposals to refurbish the Harris building, I hope that we will be able to report good news on that before long.

Equalities Training

Today elected members of Dundee City Council were given a briefing on equalities. Equalities should be important in all areas of the council's work. It is crucial that the council sets making Dundee a fairer place as one of our priorities.

Congratulations on Beautiful Scotland Awards


Congratulations on Beautiful Scotland Success

Councillor Richard McCready, Labour Spokesperson for Leisure, Arts and Communities on Dundee City Council, today congratulated the representatives of Dundee who were successful at the
Beautiful Scotland awards yesterday. Councillor McCready believes that taking a pride in the appearance of our communities and a pride in our environment is very important.

Councillor Richard McCready said, 'I am delighted to offer my congratulations to those who were successful form Dundee. The City Council won the CIWM Scottish Centre Trophy for the second year in a row for our care of the environment, Broughty in Bloom won a Silver Gilt Medal for Broughty Ferry and Ardler won a Silver Medal for an Urban Community and Bonnie Dundee won a Silver Medal for the city as a whole. I would like to offer my congratulations to everyone involved. The involvement of volunteers from the communities concerned is very important in winning these awards. There is also a lot of hard work done by staff members from Dundee City Council and they should also be congratulated.'

'This work is important and in times of economic difficulty it is easy say that this is the sort of effort that could be cut. The city should be proud that for the second year in a row we have won an award for improving cleanliness in the city and for showing a care for the environment. It is important to the quality of life of everyone in the city that we live in a clean city with an excellent environment. I know that there is much more to do on this issue but it is important that efforts already made are recognised.'

Development Quality Committee

On Monday night there was a meeting of the Development Quality Committee, this lasted just over 10 minutes. This was the shortest meeting of this Committee whilst I have been a councillor. This reflects new laws which allow for more decisions to be made by delegated powers, it also unfortunately reflects a general downturn in the construction industry. It is important therefore that the Council does what it can to promote construction in the city, in order to secure jobs.

More on Harris Academy

I am glad to say that there has been more support for Labour's call to upgrade Harris Academy. Monday night's Evening Telegraph includes an interesting story about the need to refurbish the Harris. When Labour and the Liberal Democrats were the Administration of the City Council we developed plans which are already being delivered, and there are further proposals for primary and nursery schools in Whitfield, Lochee/Charleston and the West End. Our next priority would have been Harris Academy, we hope that we can build a cross-party consensus on this important issue.

21/09/2009

Call for Urgent Upgrade of Harris Academy


My colleagues Jim McGovern MP and Laurie Bidwell, Labour spokesperon on Education, have been calling for action from the SNP Administration on school building. We want to work with the City Council to bring forward proposals which ensure that Harris Academy is refurbished sooner rather than later.




Call for Harris Academy Refurbishment in Dundee as Matter of Urgency


Laurie Bidwell, Labour’s Education Spokesperson on the City Council in Dundee has placed a motion on the agenda of the next Education Committee (Monday 28 September) demanding the declaration of the plans for the next phase of school building work in Dundee; especially the major refurbishment of Harris Academy. During his time as Education Convenor, a feasibility study was conducted by the City Council Education Department which examined options for improving or replacing the Harris Academy buildings. This was shared with members of the Harris Academy Parent Council and West End Councillors in Spring 2009. This study conceded that there was an urgent need to improve or replace the Harris Academy Buildings to bring them up to modern standards to meet the ideals of a 21st century school. Compared with the gleaming new St Paul’s Academy and the soon to be completed Grove Academy, Harris Academy has major deficiencies more particularly:
· The existing classroom dimensions, particularly in the 1930s block, are below an accepted minimum for modern teaching practices;
· The building falls well short in meeting the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) legislative requirements and is inadequate in satisfying the accessibility needs for pupils and staff with disabilities;
· There is currently no facility to allow expressive arts to be fully and satisfactorily integrated into the school curriculum;
· There are inappropriate and inadequate pupil social areas within the building and dining areas are insufficient;
· The location, distribution and condition of pupil toilets are not conducive to providing a safe, secure pupil environment, and are difficult for staff to supervise;
· Traffic and pupil movement around the school, and entering and exiting the school, creates hazards posing significant safety concerns particularly at the start and end of the school day and
· The Harris Academy campus presents significant challenges for fire safety.
In the absence of a suitable alternative site within the catchment of the school, the feasibility study concluded that the most practicable option was to comprehensively refurbish the existing school buildings at a cost close to £20M. The urgency of Harris Academy’s case is primarily educational, but if the refurbishment is tackled sooner rather than later, the spiralling cost of maintaining the existing buildings would be avoided. (see note 1)
Councillor Laurie Bidwell, Labour Education Spokesperson on Dundee City Council, said:
“I think it is important that the Education Convener, Liz Fordyce, urgently commits to secure funding for the upgrading of Harris Academy because, using the Scottish Government's School Estate criteria, Harris Academy buildings have been judged to be 'poor'. Following the opening of St Paul’s RC Academy last Tuesday and the imminent completion of the rebuild of Grove Academy as part of the PPP school building programme in the city, Harris needs to be upgraded to avoid the conclusion that there is a two tier set of secondary school buildings in Dundee; more specifically, the gleaming new St Paul’s RC Academy, the rebuilt Grove and Morgan Academies and the refurbished St John’s RC High School in contrast with the deficiencies in the Harris Academy buildings. A comprehensively refurbished Harris Academy will build on the valued traditions of the school and provide enhanced opportunities for teaching and learning.”

“I have questioned the Education Convener, SNP Councillor Liz Fordyce, more than once at the Education Committee inviting her to declare the council's priorities and programme for the next phase of school building in the city. She has consistently declined to do this. Why is she so shy declaring her programme of school building and refurbishment in the city? I thought that she would want to demonstrate that she was determined to make a reality of the SNP May 2007 electoral promise to 'match Labour's, school building programme brick for brick'? Declaring Harris Academy as a priority would be an important step towards this. Parents and carers in Dundee will want to know from Councillor Fordyce, whether she has any plans, for new schools and school refurbishment, beyond Labour's programme for Dundee?" (see note 2)

Dundee West MP, Jim McGovern, said:

“I think the case for Harris being the next major school building project in Dundee is overwhelming. I hope the Scottish Government will prioritise Harris Academy in the first round of work to be part funded by them via the Scottish Futures Trust. This will not only improve the education of children in the city but also help to secure jobs in the construction industry in Dundee.” (see note 3)

West End Councillor Richard McCready said:

“Harris Academy has a proud record promoting the attainment and achievement of generations of children. The feasibility study surely makes its own case. I have consistently supported the prioritisation of Harris Academy and will do so again at the Education Committee next week.”
Notes

Note 1 Dundee City Council Education Department; Harris Academy Feasibility Study: A School 'Fit for Purpose' in Dundee's Cultural Heart; Dundee City Council, March 2009

Note 2 Labour's PPP school building programme delivered six new primary schools:
Claypotts Castle, St Andrew's, Downfield, Craigowl, Rowantree and Fintry
plus
two new secondary schools:
St Paul's RC Academy and Grove Academy.

Labour also commissioned the replacement of Kingspark School (new build to be completed in early 2010) and planned five new Primary schools:
Whitfield (currently at detailed planning stage as part of the Whitfield Regeneration),
St Joseph's and Park Place replacements in the West End and Lochee-Charleston (twin campus schools to replace three existing schools)
All these schools were all to be funded by the Council as part of its capital plan.

Note 3 Scottish Futures Trust. On Wednesday 17 June 2009, the The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning (Fiona Hyslop)announced in the Scottish Parliament a programme of capital investment in schools through the Scottish Futures Trust. This amounted to £800 million from the Scottish Government in the form of 75% funding towards 55 new schools throughout Scotland's 32 local authorities. Which schools have been selected has yet to be announced.