Educational folly (Gussie Angus)
The SIC is, once again, being asked to consider the future of secondary education in Scalloway, despite the recent and very full debate which concluded that the pupils’ education would be better served by attendance at Lerwick’s Anderson High School.
It’s worth recalling that Scalloway’s Junior High School owes its existence to a 1947 Shetland Labour Party policy to establish junior secondary schools throughout Shetland, mainly as a rural economic generator. It was also intended to support their parliamentary candidate, the late Prophet Smith, in his ultimately unsuccessful election campaign. Shetland Labour Party dominated Shetland’s county council politics in those days, although no candidate stood on a party ticket.
Starting with Sandwick Junior Secondary School, this policy saw the creation of a network of these schools throughout Shetland with which we are all now familiar. The policy held that, as most Shetland pupils would leave full-time education at age 15, there was little point in most rural and island pupils pursuing academic subjects beyond foundation level. Those who had other aspirations could attend the Anderson Educational Institute, as it was then called, in Lerwick.
Since that time, the school leaving age has been raised, comprehensive education introduced and the curriculum transformed far beyond even the 1947 visionaries’ expectations. Any number of Scottish education acts later, successive education service managements have struggled to make the Shetland school network compliant with the continuing revolution in curriculum development and the now familiar Scottish Qualification Authority’s examination structure. A number of education experts, brought in to advise SIC, have told us that the now re-branded junior high schools have no place in a modern Scottish education system. We have persisted, however, in the belief that the socio-economic benefit of these schools is such that to review their role and function is to threaten the very social fabric of rural Shetland.
These rural junior high schools have relied on an even more extensive network of feeder primary schools for their sustenance but falling school rolls serve to highlight their limited future, despite the understandable protests from those very small primary schools that look less and less viable, both educationally and economically, with every passing year.
This comes at enormous cost to the SIC – £42.5m annually, currently – and is only sustainable by raiding Shetland’s savings, the reserve fund, already dwindling as we pursue this failed policy. There surely must come a point when we recognise the futility, nay, folly of clinging to the belief that we can deliver the new Curriculum for Excellence from the 1947 school bus.
Cllr Gussie Angus