01 February 2024

Committee agrees to review of school estate

A review of primary school estates across Aberdeenshire will be launched to help the council better plan for the future of education provision.

Members of the Education and Children’s Services Committee agreed on Thursday (February 1) to launch the review, beginning an initial phase of engagement with communities in the Banff, Turriff and Westhill areas.

The committee heard how pupil numbers across the Shire continue to decline, with a third of all primary schools now having fewer than 50 pupils.

Councillors were told that any changes to the learning estate must be made to achieve educational and social benefits for all learners.

The initial phase of the project will focus on the Banff, Turriff and Westhill clusters which includes:

  • Aberchirder, Banff, Bracoden, Fordyce, Macduff, Ordiquhill, Portsoy, and Whitehills primary schools in the Banff cluster; 
  • Auchterless, Crudie, Easterfield, Fintry, Fisherford, Fyvie, King Edward, Monquhitter, and Turriff primary schools in the Turriff cluster; 
  • Crombie, Elrick, Skene, and Westhill primary schools in the Westhill cluster.

Committee Chair Cllr David Keating said: “The review the committee has agreed to carry out today is about assessing our estate and working with our staff, pupils, parents, carers and the local community.

“This will be a long process with a survey for parents and the local community, followed by public meetings, and further engagement sessions.

“This engagement is absolutely vital and an integral part of any potential changes we might make to our learning estate.”

The committee recognised the importance and value of small rural schools and heard how the new approach for the estate could lead to the creation of rural hubs which would serve clusters of smaller communities with a single community school.

Aberdeenshire’s primary school estate consists of 149 primary schools, three of which are mothballed - 67 primary schools have a roll of 75 pupils or less and there are currently 29 schools operating under 50% capacity, expected to rise to 40 by 2028.

There are currently 20,551 primary school pupils in Aberdeenshire, a reduction of more than 200 pupils over the last eight years.

Whilst pupil numbers are declining, numbers remain buoyant in the main towns in Garioch, Buchan, Kincardine & Mearns and parts of Formartine. 

Marr, northern parts of Formartine, and Banff and Buchan continue to see significant decline in children of school age.

In 2021, the ECS Committee approved a strategy whereby the ideal occupancy level of a school would be around 85% and agreed that when a primary school has eight or fewer pupils, the service should consider mothballing.

The review could see school buildings utilised for another purpose, school capping or rezoning, mothballing, school mergers or closure.

Vice chair of ECS Cllr Anne Simpson added: “Any proposals will likely have more than one option which will need to be fully explored with all stakeholders, which includes not only parents, carers, and the wider community, but the pupils themselves.

“I hope as many people as possible get involved so we can take the right decisions about our school estate and help best meet the community’s needs.”