Letter from Edinburgh
Brae High School’s secondary two and three are an argumentative lot. Good. They should be! Our schools should be about kids debating what’s important so it’s great to see Brae and Sandwick in particular putting bright young Shetlanders forward for the Althing and national debating competitions.
Brae’s finest put me through a grilling on Monday on everything from Afghanistan to the future of education in Shetland. They knew their stuff on armed conflict, our troops and whether they should be involved, and the historical perspective on the former Soviet Union’s war with the mujahedeen.
We then moved from global events to local ones and the inevitable concerns over schools in Shetland. One of the defining arguments made by teachers and Brae pupils alike is the enormous challenge of taking on two big changes at one time. The first is Curriculum for Excellence which is a fundamental change to teaching in secondary schools, the exams pupils will take and the qualifications they will achieve. If your son or daughter is currently in primary seven or below – and I plead guilty to a parental interest on this – all these changes affect you. But at the same time the council is consulting on closing schools. I hear that the meetings in Yell, for example, have been fairly vigorous. It can be no other. I am not sure that asking Hayfield House – the education department – to implement these enormous changes at the same time is at all wise. What’s going on in schools – driven by central government – must be the priority at the moment.
Full marks to NorthLink for introducing a new freight vessel serving Shetland’s needs. The NorthLink boss Bill Davidson has negotiated the extra tonnage, with a quicker vessel which will assist the salmon, seafish and other local industries, particularly those which are exporting time sensitive products to the Scottish mainland. Wednesday’s naming by Sophie Wishart of the Hildasay had the added benefit of being carried out on a beautiful winter’s day. And apart from a champagne bottle that refused to smash – well it has happened to the Queen too – it’s a much needed sign of economic confidence that a larger freight vessel will be serving Shetland. In passing, full marks too, to the local freight industry and industry associations which have maintained pressure on the shipping company to act in response to market need. NorthLink have, and that’s to Shetland’s benefit.
Lastly this week, among my responsibilities of keeping up-to-date with local news, I hear Lerwick Up-Helly-A’ mutterings about the Slantigirt Flabley squad. For those who did not catch this act, it featured some upstanding local gentleman baring their torsos in a lively display of bravado. But a source from within tells me that there wasn’t unanimity over the “bare all” policy! Ah well, what squad is united on every aspect of their act?!