Sciennes Primary School in Edinburgh: play area so small pupils are banned from playing the traditional game

The playground at a primary school in Edinburgh is so narrow that children have been banned from playing a traditional racing game.

Sciennes Primary School is one of the largest in Scotland with 665 pupils in 22 classes and much of its outdoor space has been taken up with additional classrooms.

The school’s parent council and four councilors representing Southside/Newington are pushing for urgent action to free up more space. One idea is to take the road back outside and reuse it to expand the playing field. But they were told there was no money available for such a move and they could cope to a legal challenge.

Since the confinement, the street has become an informal extension of the playground. Image: Google Street View.

Headteachers have denied claims youngsters have been told not to run in the playground because of the ‘high risk of collision’. But they admitted that a traditional game at school, known as ‘sheddie’ – in which P7 pupils ran en masse from a bicycle shed at one end of the playground to a shed at bicycles to each other – was no longer allowed. “The problem is there are now two temporary classrooms that they would have to go around and also at certain breaks in play they share the playground with P3s and P4s so you have kids a lot more little ones around,” an education source said.

Before Covid, the section of Sciennes Road outside the school was declared a ‘school street’ under a scheme which closes the roads to through traffic at drop off and pick up times. But Green Councilor Steve Burgess said drivers were simply ignoring the restrictions and the police had to be called regularly.

During the pandemic, the council temporarily closed the road to all vehicular traffic, allowing the school to use the road space as an informal play area. And now the hope is that the shutdown can be made permanent.

But Cllr Burgess said: ‘Council cannot completely close the road, including to pedestrians and cyclists, unless they execute a stop order. In a report to the council’s transport and environment committee, the officials said: ‘An independent legal opinion has been commissioned which has concluded that any attempt to prohibit the use of this section of the road from Sciennes to cyclists and pedestrians under current road or town planning legislation would have a significant impact risk of legal challenge.

The report also states that the size of a school playground is seen as a “fitness issue” in whether a school is fit to deliver the curriculum. He continued: “There is no funding available to address adequacy issues which are considered a lower priority. However, a matching survey will be conducted over the next year, so that a list of school matching issues can be compiled and prioritized if funding becomes available in the future.

Cllr Burgess said that over the past few days councilors had been advised that it might not be possible to continue the current temporary road closure beyond February 2023 and therefore there was the possibility of returning to “a dangerous school streets program” from that date until a permanent closure order has been completed, which he said could take a year or 18 months from now.

transport manager Scott Arthur said he had been assured officers were doing all they could to ensure the current arrangements continued. He added: “It’s a fantastic school community – children, parents and teachers – but they’re not well served by the playing field they have, so it’s about treating them fairly.”

Harold B. McConnell