Practical suggestions please (Jonathan Wills)
I’m glad Andy Holt (Readers’ Views) belatedly agrees with me about Mareel, but sad that he then accuses me of cheap political trickery over the future of Shetland’s small schools.
My offence was to dare to point out that we will have less money to spend on each pupil if we spread our education budget too thinly over more schools than we actually need.
Andy alleges that I favour “slashing the services of the most vulnerable parts of Shetland society”. I do not. Andy, of all people, knows that the council has massively subsidised Papa Stour’s ro-ro vehicle ferry, new ferry terminals and repairs to the island’s road. We also re-opened the school, at considerable expense, when a new family arrived (only to leave again through no fault of the council’s).
Papa Stour residents can apply for council grants and loans for agricultural, tourism and craft projects like anyone else. Far from undermining the remoter areas, the council spends more per head on them than any local authority in the Highlands and Islands.
Returning to the schools question, the expensive political trick is to provide the highest standards for all pupils, wherever they live. To do this, we need to amalgamate some very small primaries to create schools of at least 100 pupils, so we can make most effective use of our dwindling budgets for staff, equipment, materials and building maintenance.
The very small islands like Fair Isle and Foula will always need small primaries. These are not under threat.
Perhaps the biggest contribution the council could make to rural development is to provide childcare in school buildings before and after the teaching day. This would enable more parents to take jobs, pay taxes and help the local and national economy. It happens in many other European countries (eg the Czech Republic). While looking at how they do this elsewhere, we might ask why there’s so little bureaucracy in Norway’s excellent primary schools, compared with the Scottish system.
What is certain is that our existing “scheme of educational provision” is no longer affordable nor (which is even more important) the best way to educate our children. Rather than hurling some rather un-Christian insults, Mr Holt and some other correspondents might be better employed making practical suggestions for our new “scheme of provision”.
Lerwick Town Hall.