Moray Council chiefs have unveiled a radical idea to build a single “super school” for all 12,000 primary and secondary pupils in the region.
Senior local authority figures believe bussing youngsters to one huge campus could save it tens of millions of pounds and help ease its classroom staffing crisis.
They say they have been forced to think “outside the box” as they battle a shrinking budget and a huge bill for bringing existing school buildings up to acceptable standards.
But the notion of condensing all Moray’s eight secondaries and 45 primaries into one school with a roll equivalent to the population Of Forres was branded “absurd” by opposition councillors.
Council convener Allan Wright has been a long-term supporter of children aged from three to 18 attending the same campus.
He said: “If you were starting from a scratch with a greenfield site then it would be the best option for education and the cheapest option for the future because it would be more economical to run.
“If we are talking about a single super school for Moray then you could really splash out on extraordinary facilities with a superb curriculum to go with it. In an ideal world it would be very nice.”
The council opened a debate on the proposal on its Facebook site as it tries to find budget savings of £12million.
It is also faced with spending huge sums on its schools – which have been rated among the worst in Scotland.
The local authority’s director of education, Laurence Findlay, said the council had been forced to come up with innovative ideas to balance the books.
He said: “Our school estate is crumbling and needs £152million just to bring it up to satisfactory – not great – standards, so it’s time we started a conversation that steers us outside the box more.
“Having modern education hubs or campuses across Moray that delivered a wide curriculum of activities for all, including more e-learning for some aspects of the curriculum, could be the answer, but it’s good to have views on it or hear of workable alternatives.”
SNP group leader Gary Coull branded the super school idea a “waste of time” and said more effort should be focussed on exploring other ways of saving money.
He said: “To suggest that all 12,000 pupils in Moray could attend just one school is absurd and does very little to promote sensible debate around the very serious financial situation that faces the council.
“Instead it just winds-up communities that have suffered the threat of school closures over many years.”
Construction is already underway on a replacement for Elgin High, with Lossiemouth High also due for an upgrade.
Two new primary schools have also been proposed for Elgin.
The council’s social media said having fewer than the current 53 schools in the region would be a solution to the current teaching crisis.
At the start of the term, the authority had 44 classroom vacancies.
The post states: “We’re told there’s a teacher shortage in Moray and across Scotland, but here’s an interesting fact – apart from national shortages in some secondary subjects such as maths and sciences, we have enough teachers for all our pupils.
“The problem is they are spread over too many schools.”
Moray Council staff also suggested “five or six” campuses spread across the region as another alternative.
Residents have been encouraged to take part in online debates on social media about saving money in all council departments to help fund savings.
Mr Wright said: “The response has been extraordinary.
“We are getting 10 times the amount of feedback we had before. It’s time old diehards like me embraced technology.”
A 12,000-pupil “super school” in Moray would be the biggest in the UK, but still be far from the largest in the world.
City Montessori School in India is more than four times the size with a roll of 52,000 students, enough to fill Hampden Park.
Every day, children from five to 17 years old file into the single school building in the city of Lucknow, in the north of the country.
Despite having more than 1,000 classrooms and an army of 2,500 teachers, complaints have been made about overcrowding in the school with up to 45 students in a class. However, the school has been praised for its academic success.
Rizal High School in the Philippines capital Manila has the largest roll for a devoted secondary school, with nearly 20,000 pupils attending classes.
The UK’s biggest school, Nottingham Academy, continues to grow and will soon smash the 4,000 barrier with an extra 420 places due to be added to its current 3,600 capacity for primary and secondary students.
Wheeling Park High School in West Virginia in the USA, with a roll of about 2,000 and a dedicated performing arts theatre, was used on the Moray Council social media post to illustrate what a “super school” would look like in the region.