Parents put up a desperate fight to save Rockwell High in Dundee from closure 25 years ago before being counted out in the final round.
The school was opened on April 10 1930 and became known as ‘the Rocky’.
Generations of children walked through its gates in the decades which followed before its proposed closure first reared its ugly head in 1990.
Because of its disadvantage in being two miles from its Ardler and St Mary’s catchment area, parents there were choosing to send their children to Lawside Academy, the local Catholic secondary, and Rockwell’s roll threatened to go into freefall.
The former Labour administration of Tayside Region rescued the school by voting through a free bus service for catchment area pupils costing an estimated £50,000 a year and removing restrictions to attract pupils from other areas.
As a result of these moves and the school’s efforts to promote itself, Rockwell’s roll rose to 500 pupils which, with its capacity of 650, gave it an occupancy level of 75%.
The new city council followed a different agenda to balance the books.
Cuts plan unveiled
A report drawn up by education director Anne Wilson in January 1996 earmarked Rockwell High and Linlathen High for summer closure along with primary schools Greenfield, West March, St Matthew’s and Rockwell to save £2m from its budget.
Rockwell High would merge with Kirkton High which was 46.8% full.
School board chairman Ian Brown said Rockwell High should be allowed to survive and grow because more parents were choosing to send their children there.
“We have felt for some time that our current notional capacity of 650 was somewhat low,” he said.
“The trend of recent years has seen an increasing and substantial number of parents from outwith our catchment area choosing to send their children to Rockwell High.
“They choose to do so because they have made a judgment that it’s a good school to go to.
“Raising the capacity will allow for that trend to be accelerated.”
A consultation period followed during which parents and pupils at every targeted school protested.
There were many angry scenes at public meetings held by the council to explain their reasoning.
Some parents claimed they would rather go to jail than send their youngsters to Kirkton.
The message was also taken to the city’s bus fleet with a poster campaign on the side of local services urging the council to “let parents choose”.
Call it Rocky II
The Rockwell board also argued that if any merger went ahead it should be centred at Rockwell, not Kirkton.
“We have offered alternatives and we can give you a new name for this school,” said Mr Brown.
“Call it Rocky II.”
Some changes were made to the plans, but before the start of the summer holidays the death knell had been sounded for Linlathen and four primaries.
Only Rockwell High was holding out.
The school board passed a resolution to pursue self-government to avoid the merger.
Business as usual
The school sent out 300 copies of a glossy prospectus to the parents of pupils at Rockwell’s seven feeder primaries urging them to seek places for the new term.
The amalgamation between Rockwell and Kirkton was shelved pending the Scottish Office’s consideration of Rockwell’s bid to opt out of council control.
The council responded by stopping the Rockwell bus service and cutting 13 teachers’ posts in other Dundee secondaries.
Education convener John Kemp said: “If Rockwell were to acquire self-governing status they would be funded directly from the Secretary of State.
“We had anticipated savings through the proposed merger and if Rockwell continues down the self-governing road then we will be forced to make these savings in other areas.
“We have never said that we were closing Rockwell because it’s a bad school.
“Children there are getting a good education.
“In times of budget cuts things are different.”
Final nail in the coffin
Rockwell published its proposals to become a self-governing school just before pupils returned from the summer break, which covered the way the school would be managed and what would be taught, along with details of its £1.4 million 1996-97 budget, and two maps showing secondary school catchment areas in Dundee.
The consultation period ended in October.
Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth then announced in December that he intended to reject the school board’s plea to opt out of council control.
He gave them a chance to appeal by January 24.
The school board vowed to fight on.
“This is certainly not an end,” said chairman Ian Brown.
“We may have lost a battle but we have not lost the war.”
Councillor Ian Borthwick said the proposal to close Rockwell and merge it with Kirkton High School would mean having to find acceptable alternative provision for over 400 pupils.
He said the indications he had received were that parents would not choose to send their children to Kirkton.
Mr Forsyth formally rejected the school’s opt-out application in February.
The Scottish Secretary acknowledged that Dundee City Council had identified 6,102 surplus secondary school places and had proposed the closure of a number of schools, including the merger of Rockwell with Kirkton, to reduce the surplus capacity.
He took the view that the considerations against the Rockwell High school board’s proposals for self-governing status outweighed the considerations in favour.
Fight to the final bell
Mr Brown said Rockwell parents, pupils and the school board were disappointed at the decision to reject its bid for independence.
“We have not given up the fight by any manner of means,” he said.
“All our efforts will now be concentrated on trying to get John Kemp and the rest of the council to change their minds about Rockwell.
“There’s not going to be a merger with Kirkton High because the school roll of Rockwell have said they will not be going to the merged school.
“With Harris and Morgan Academies full, Rockwell parents would rather send their children to Lawside.”
“One thing is certain.
“We will not be dragooned into going to a merged school.”
Dundee’s Labour administration forged ahead with the bitterly contested closure but peace broke out before the school bell rang for the final time.
Kirkton High School board extended the hand of friendship to the Rockwell High board in a bid to improve relations.
Chris Wood, chairman of the Kirkton board, renewed his invitation to the Rockwell board to visit Kirkton High “to see the school as it really is”.
“We invited the Rockwell board to visit our school a year ago and before the opt-out business began and they declined our invitation,” he said.
“We would like to invite them again and hope they will accept.
“Part of the problem is that there was a negative perception of Kirkton High.
“That was in the past and it is no longer valid.
“We would like the Rockwell board to come here to see what a positive place our school has become in the hope that Rockwell pupils will share in its bright future.”
Kirkton pupils gave a talk to the visitors who accepted the invitation to an open meeting before other pupils and staff conducted guided tours of the school.
Kirkton High rector George Laidlaw said many of the parents had “seemed quite impressed” with the school.
The new beginning was also marked with a new name.
Baldragon Academy was chosen after a vote by pupils and staff from Kirkton and Rockwell.
It was one of two suggestions proposed by the joint school board and came out well ahead of the other candidate, Craigowl Academy.
Parents, pupils and staff also chose a new school tie.
The gates at Rockwell High closed for the final time after 67 years in June 1997 which marked the end of an era for the community.
Baldragon then opened in August 1997 with a roll of about 750 pupils, meaning it was operating at around 60% of its capacity.
A contingent of Rockwell pupils living south of Kingsway moved to Harris Academy.
The empty classrooms were kept busy in the years after the merger.
The former Rockwell High was used as temporary accommodation at various times for Morgan Academy, St John’s High and Harris Academy.
But age has finally caught up with the Rocky.
The building on Lawton Road has gradually fallen into disrepair and has become a constant target for vandals.
Surplus to requirements, the building was put on the market for £750,000.
But the memories of the Rocky will live on.