Primary School Capacity in Edinburgh and the Lothians

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Primary School Capacity in Edinburgh and the Lothians

Primary School Capacity in Edinburgh and the Lothians

Fergus Fisher 31 Aug 2023
At the beginning of my internship with Lichfields in the Edinburgh office I was assigned an interesting research project looking into proposed new housing developments and whether there is sufficient primary school infrastructure within the catchment area to educate additional pupils. The project focused on the City of Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian, and West Lothian using key data from government sources to identify which primary schools were either under or over capacity. I then compared where these schools were in relation to the potential for new housing developments. Some of the key sources I used within my research include; school estates supplementary statistics, primary school information dashboard, the local development plan for each of the council areas as well as their housing land audits. These sources provided the necessary data which I could then analyse highlighting key findings that I will discuss further throughout this blog.

What did my research reveal?

Edinburgh at the start of the 2021/22 school year had capacity for 5,830 non-denominational primary school pupils if each of their schools was at 100% capacity. For the same school year East Lothian had capacity for 2,698 pupils; Midlothian had capacity for 2,064 pupils; and West Lothian for 4,236 pupils. That is a total of 14,828 pupils if all non-denominational primary schools were 100% full.  If we assume it is reasonable to plan for each school to be 95% full and if we assume that a new house will generate 0.3 non- denominational primary school pupils (each local authority uses a different pupil product ratio, 0.3 is a good approximation) we can assume that in the order of 38,000 new homes could be supported by the existing school estate – 14,000 in Edinburgh, 7,200 in East Lothian, 5,300 in Midlothian and 11,300 in West Lothian. 
In recent years there has been significant housing development around Gilmerton and the Danderhall/Shawfair areas with around 1,559 new homes planned at Gilmerton and a further 4,870 new homes at Danderhall/Shawfair. In these areas there will be a significant arrival of new families to the area in the near future. This increase in family homes led to the construction of Frogston primary school within the Gilmerton catchment area in June 2021 which has capacity for 420 pupils and is currently at 70% capacity steadily increasing annually as the new homes continue to be completed providing families with the necessary education infrastructure. Similarly, in the Danderhall/Shawfair area Danderhall primary school was upgraded in April 2021 providing facilities for up to 600 pupils to meet the demand. Danderhall primary was at 60% capacity in 2022 therefore still has plenty of spaces however the roll is increasing significantly annually as more houses are finished within the development and people are moving in. It is positive to see that both councils have recognised the need for more education infrastructure in these areas as a result of the developments providing additional primary schools to meet demand but, why not build new homes where capacity already exists?
Similarly, in East Lothian plans have been approved to construct 800 new homes on a site at Letham Mains on the outskirts of Haddington which could bring an additional 240 school pupils to the area. With the education infrastructure in Haddington already at full capacity the decision was made to include a primary school within the development providing the new homes with adequate education infrastructure. Letham primary school was completed in February 2021 and has capacity for up to 411 pupils however in 2022 the school was only at 26% capacity therefore is being massively underutilised. Some of the bigger towns within West Lothian are continuing to grow with significant housing development planned in Livingston, Whitburn, Winchburgh, East Calder, and Mid Calder. Winchburgh has 3,335 new homes planned to be constructed in the housing land audit. Winchburgh primary school is currently over capacity with 328 pupils enrolled for the 2021/22 school year.  The school only has capacity for 273 pupils therefore is currently at 120% capacity and this is continuing to increase annually.  A new non-denominational primary school is planned to support the ongoing housing development here. 


What about areas where school rolls are low?

Looking at the Edinburgh’s non-denominational primary schools 16% have capacity of more than 30% (12 schools). Looking at the Council’s interactive maps it is clear that 50% of these school catchments have no housing allocations in the 2022 Housing Land Audit.  
One third of Midlothian’s non-denominational primary schools have capacity of more than 30% (8 schools).  Looking at the Council’s interactive maps it is clear that 25% of these school catchments have no housing allocations in the 2022 Housing Land Audit. 
East Lothian’s non-denominational primary schools with capacity of more than 30% = 9 schools and in West Lothian 42% of schools have capacity of 30% or more (22 schools).  Unfortunately, neither East Lothian nor West Lothian have interactive maps showing their Housing Land Audit sites, so it wasn’t possible to easily determine whether or not there were housing sites identified in the catchment areas of the under-capacity schools.
Throughout the Lothians there a number of small primary schools located in rural villages which are struggling to maintain capacity with school rolls falling year on year as pupils progress onto high school and very few new pupils coming into the school to replace them. West Lothian has 6 schools with rolls of less than 90 pupils and capacity of more than 30%.  Woodmuir Primary and Dechmont Infant school have rolls of 13 pupils and 16 pupils respectively.  East Lothian in particular has a number of primary schools which are a good example of this issue. In 2022 Humbie Primary had only 28% of full capacity, Saltoun Primary had 37%, and Stenton Primary had 52% therefore all have critically low school roles 15 pupils, 29 pupils and 21 pupils respectively. Without new housing developments it is difficult to see how such schools will be sustained.    


In Summary

It is evident that throughout Edinburgh and Lothians the impact of new housing developments on education infrastructure has been given greater consideration in some areas more than others. Positive housing developments around Gilmerton and Danderhall/Shawfair have considered the effect of the development on existing education infrastructure and as a result have invested in new primary schools within their plans to ensure sufficient primary school capacity is available. On the other hand, primary schools in Winchburgh are over capacity meaning significant investment is needed to provide additional infrastructure. On the contrary there are primary schools in Edinburgh and the Lothians which are significantly under capacity and struggling to remain viable. Some councils such as Midlothian have recognised these issues approving plans to develop around 1,000 new homes in Penicuik which is positive to see and will help increase the primary school roles in both Cuiken and Strathesk primary schools that, prior to such development, were only at around half capacity. On a less positive note, the villages of Humbie, Saltoun, and Stenton in East Lothian have no plans for any housing developments which is bad news for the local primary schools as all 3 are massively under capacity and in desperate need of more pupils to remain viable.
It is clear from this research project the relationship between housing developments and education infrastructure is far from straightforward with significant thought and consideration required to ensure the best outcome.
My internship is at an end now, but I hope what I have found out has been interesting to you.  If you wish to discuss any of the above please contact Nicola Woodward or Gordon Thomson in our Edinburgh office.