Pressures at primary level

The cost of building programmes and the ongoing need to provide adequate staffing levels generated a movement towards rationalisation (especially of primary schools) that impacted severely upon many of the county’s rural communities. Although the value of the school in the community was widely recognised ‘… having a school as a focal point gives the community greater cohesion and purpose’ (Preston Log, 1924-1974), it was equally evident that many village schools were housed in buildings which required significant renovation and were expensive to run in terms of staff and maintenance. These schools were an obvious focus for rationalisation. Early casualties included Smeaton and Cowpits schools, which closed in 1958; by 1962, proposals to close a number of village schools were being put into effect, their pupils generally being transferred to extended premises in other villages. This was not only a loss to the communities that lost their schools: the new schools, with their wider catchment areas, also changed the nature of the communities in which they were located. There was some limited sympathy for the inhabitants of these villages, but the Scottish Education Department, while recognising local concern, argued that

Even from the community point of view … a vigorous school in a modern building should be able to contribute at least as much to the life of a scattered population as a declining school in a poor building.

Discontinuance of Rural Schools in East Lothian, Scottish Education Department

The small schools at Spott, East Barns, Oldhamstocks, Garvald, Bolton and Morham were closed over the following five years. Only Humbie Primary, out of the schools initially scheduled for closure, remained open. The future of other schools was continually being reappraised, and local communities fought for the survival of their school, Stenton being just one example. Once the decision had been taken in the early 1960s to go ahead with Whiteadder reservoir, the closure of Kingside followed, although it seems to have kept going until 1968. Longyester, Whittingehame and Kingston closed in 1968, 1973 and 1974 respectively, and Tyninghame and Whitekirk by 1988. In town, increasing pressure on school accommodation meant that in Haddington, when a new primary school was to be built at King’s Meadow (open 1969), it was decided to utilise the original primary school for an infant’s school, taking primary 1-3 pupils. This avoided inter-school rivalry, which might have occurred if a second separate school had been opened. This pattern was to be repeated elsewhere in the county.

Changes under the Region

The movement towards centralisation was fuelled by the amalgamation of the old county councils into large-scale authorities in 1974, when Lothian Regional Council took over the educational function from East Lothian County Council. The size of the new authority offered a number of advantages. ‘Economies of scale’ meant that schools in East Lothian had access to a far wider range of resources both in terms of people and materials than before: teachers had wider opportunities to develop their professional expertise, and many children with special educational needs attended special schools outside the county where therapy and medical input was integrated into the school day.

In the 1980s, regulations sought to devolve much of the management, including the finance, of individual schools to the schools themselves and to the parents of school pupils, whose responsibilities prior to this had essentially been limited to ensuring their child attended school regularly and were adequately clothed and fed for participation in school activities. West Barns primary school’s (2002) information booklet indicated this change in the relationship between school and parent, stating that ‘Effective communication between school and a child’s parents is vital’; it further sought to involve parents in assistance with homework, field trips and classroom-based activities.

Nonetheless, the loss of a local network of provision based on the needs and priorities of the local communities such as exemption from school for children needed to help with harvesting (Haddingtonshire Courier 1957) and local gala days represented a loss to East Lothian’s communities. Additionally, teachers were no longer living within the locality of the school, often commuting from elsewhere in the county and beyond.