September 4, 2008

Learning in Comfort is All Part of School Day

By Gemma Fraser,

WITH its roof terrace, plasma screens and leather sofas, you could be forgiven for thinking you were stepping into a five-star hotel.

But the new GBP 16 million horseshoe building which stands proud at the heart of Craigmillar's major regeneration project is in fact the area's new primary school. After years in the planning and 18 months of construction, the new joint campus for St Francis and Niddrie Mill schools finally opened its doors last week to almost 400 excited youngsters.

Although still operating as distinctly separate schools - with each one a mirror image of the other on opposite sides of the building - the pupils share a number of communal areas like the main vestibule and dining hall.

The playground to the back - which has views on to Arthur's Seat - also belongs to both schools, with children playing together at break times.

The headteachers of both schools put a lot of work into familiarising the children. Margaret Duff, who has been headteacher at St Francis for ten years, said: "We did a lot of work together for the last six months and did things like swapping play times, with classes going to the other school to get to know the other pupils."

Sadie Miller, who has been at the head of Niddrie Mill for the past four years, added: "A worry for both of us initially was the volume of children because there used to be a lot less, but it really works.

"We have a common code of discipline so that any staff from either school can deal with any issues in the playground or wherever."

The school has a capacity for 739 pupils in order to cater for the number of families moving into the area as a result of the 15- year regeneration of Craigmillar, which is currently being carried out by Parc, who funded the school, in partnership with the city council.

Each classroom is equipped with two computers, smart boards and plasma screens, and each school is kitted out with its own computer suite.

The playground has a full-sized football pitch, artificial turf, sensory garden, selection of games and dance classes all on offer.

The classrooms - 14 of which are for Niddrie Mill and 12 for St Francis - can all be increased in size and turned into open plan areas by removing the sound-proof partitions, while each school's gym hall can also double in size in the same way.

The hall can also double up as a theatre or concert venue.

Michelle McLoughlin, chair of St Francis' parent council, said: "I'm impressed with the space and the resources we've got. It's good because we still have our own identity but the kids can also get together, which is fantastic."

Nine-year-old Nicole Gormley said: "The view is the best because we get to look at Arthur's Seat.

Laura McKenzie, 11, said: "It's a really good idea because we've got a Catholic school and a non-Catholic school coming together.

"I thought there was going to be fights but there's been none."

The Craigmillar school is the city's fourth joint campus primary, following in the footsteps of Fox Covert RC and Fox Covert primaries, which have shared their campus since the 1960s, St David's and Pirniehall, and Broomhouse and St Joseph's.


SCHOOL inspectors have highlighted a number of "key strengths" at St Francis school following an inspection earlier this year.

The results of the HMIE report show that the school has positive learning experiences for its nursery children, has happy and friendly primary pupils, has strong partnerships with parents and the local community and strong leadership.

The school was inspected in May, while pupils and teachers were in the old building on Niddrie Mains Road.

Eleanor Harkness, HM Inspector, said: "As a result of the overall good performance, HM Inspectors will make no further reports in connection with this inspection."

Michelle McLoughlin, chairwoman of the school's parent council, said: "As a parent, it's good to know that you're getting such a good report from the inspectors."

Originally published by Gemma Fraser, Education Reporter.

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