17th August 2018
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Sandwick parents call for rethink on school closures

9 comments, , by , in News

Parents of pupils at the Sandwick secondary department have urged the council to think twice before closing schools.

Around 50 people attended a public meeting last night to voice fears over the future of education should councillors press ahead with proposals to save over £3 million by closing down junior highs and five primaries.

The SIC estimates that shutting Sandwick alone could save £907,790.  

But parents praised the junior high model of education in Shetland. Some people pointed to better exam results achieved at Sandwick and at Aith – which is also faced with the threat of closure – than in Lerwick.

There were warnings journey times to and from the Anderson High would take too long if Sandwick shut down. Many journeys already take more longer than the 65 minutes the SIC has set as a maximum for trips to and from secondary schools.

One concerned parent said journey times would be reduced if pupils were instead bussed from the Anderson High to various junior highs in the country, and called for the council to examine the proposal.

“It’s not very far to take the Anderson bairns to Scalloway, to Sandwick, to Brae. Can Sandwick absorb 200 bairns from the town? Can the West Side absorb 200 bairns from the town, or Brae or a re-opened Scalloway?”

South Mainland councillor George Smith said no costings had been made.

“There are two options – one is the option that is costed and is on the table at the moment, to close five junior highs along with five primaries to save around three and a half million. The other way would be to not have the Anderson and bus everybody out. It can be done – whether it will be done is another matter because of political will, and it hasn’t been costed. I think it is one of the options that could be costed.”

Some were also concerned their school would find itself in “limbo” as parents, increasingly alarmed by the prospect of Sandwick possibly closing, choose to send their children to an increasingly packed Anderson High instead.

But first came a warning from head of finance James Gray. The council’s reserves, he said, had dipped from £227.7 million to £193.2 million in the space of 12 months from April last year. This year’s draw is estimated to be around £36 million.

Doing nothing, he warned, would result in the reserves dwindling away by 2016/17. “There is no choice about it,” he said.

One parent dismissed the meeting as “a train-wreck of finances”. He called for more evidence of a plan for education being put forward.

“In what sense is this a Blueprint refresh?” he demanded.

There was also concern that no-one from the education department had been invited to attend. Parent council chairman James Lucock said the get-together had been arranged for councillors to hear feedback from parents before this week’s Full Council meeting takes place on Thursday.

South Mainland member Billy Fox was at the meeting along with Mr Smith, although fellow south end councillor Allison Duncan did not attend but sent his apologies.

Concerns were highlighted from one former pupil at the Scalloway Junior High, who said youngsters who had been forced to move to Lerwick after the closure of Scalloway’s secondary ended up with less teacher support.

Renegotiating the terms of the oil deal which provides cash thanks to Sullom Voe was put forward as one possibility. That was something  Mr Fox, who is also a member of the Sullom Voe Association, said was already being examined.

“There’s a definite feeling that we need to go back to them and say Sullom Voe needs us and we need Sullom Voe. If they want us to provide the harbour service, for example, then they need to look at getting us a better deal.”

A stronger emphasis was also called for more use of video-link technology and social media for developing a sustainable education service in rural areas – many sought a full costing exercise to be carried out into the use of such technology.

Mother Linda Tait called for a breakdown of costs on “central services” along with an examination of administration support to see if it could be done more cost-effectively.

“It seems to me you get lots of letters from people to do with schooling and every letter is signed by different admin staff. While I think it’s hard to speak about redundancy, when you are speaking about three and a half million pounds you’re speaking about future generations. Once the schools are closed, re-opening them is never going to happen.”

She called on views from the public to be gathered on what should be included within tight budgets.

Mr Smith urged parent council members to put forward alternative ideas for education in Sandwick or how the savings could be made from elsewhere.

“It’s fairly clear all the imaginative thinking isn’t going to come from the school service alone.

“It’s about as many brains as possible to come with thoughts and ideas to try and achieve a two-pronged attack – one to seek an alternative way of providing education and the other way is to find an alternative place for the savings to come from.

“As a parent council, if you had thoughts in terms of how Sandwick might be able to be used in a different way to contribute education then you work that up a peerie bit, put forward a plan that could be made up into something that is viable.”

During the meeting Mr Fox also admitted he had no confidence in the consultation process.

“In past the consultation process has not taken on board what people have said.

“When it goes on paper it tends to be a roadmap. If I felt the consultation process was going to be carried out in a truly inclusive form, with really good ideas taken onboard, I wouldn’t have a problem with the consultation process, but I don’t have that confidence.”

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About Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor has worked as a reporter since 1995, and has been at The Shetland Times since 2007, covering a wide variety of news topics. Before then he reported for other newspapers in the Highlands, where he was raised, and in Fife, where he began his career with DC Thomson. He also has experience in broadcast journalism with Grampian Television. He has lived in Shetland since 2002, where he harbours an unhealthy interest in old cars and motorbikes.

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9 comments

  1. Sheila Tulloch

    £907k saving? Maybe on the education budget? But shifting the burden on to transport is hardly a saving.

    Reply
  2. Kevin Theakston

    How can the council know how much the transport costs are going to be long term when I have no idea how much it will cost to fill my car with fuel next week?.
    This is a dangerous game of short term thinking the council are playing with irreversible and damaging consequences.
    Education is an investment not a cost.
    Why would the council wish to compare the costings of Shetland education against that of the mainland when Shetlands results are far higher?, one would assume it’s Shetland that should be the ‘blueprint’ to follow.

    Reply
  3. paul barlow

    we need to know how much of the £4 million plus of unassigned spend is in fact Anderson spend.

    If Unsts junior high is safe then Whalsey must be safe under the same reason. That leaves Aith and Sandwick to save 3million with. This of course is impossible.

    Then we have to ask where is next years 4 million going to be cut from the schools.

    When do we expect the first gas money to come in. unless that’s strangely vanished.

    Reply
  4. W Conroy

    Why does cost keep getting mentioned if it has already been stated by the education minister Mike Russell that there has to be a strong educational case for any closures and that cost should not be the issue?

    If, as stated above, the country schools are providing a higher level of education with better exam results then that should be the end of any consideration on closing these country schools and savings should be sought out elsewhere.

    Why then does the council insist on wasting time and money flogging this dead horse?

    “One concerned parent said journey times would be reduced if pupils were instead bussed from the Anderson High to various junior highs in the country”

    Not sure how that would work either – Would journey times not be the same either way? Also if the Anderson was closed not only would the country bairns still need transport to school but there would be a huge number of buses required to take the bairns from the town – surely it would just increase transport costs?

    As for the whole “There are two options” statement… Really? I can think of a third! How about getting a grip, stop destroying communities, keep all the schools open and find the money elsewhere?

    Reply
  5. Sandy McDonald

    I went to Sandwick from S1 to S4, it was and is a fantastic modern school with a great ethos and dedicated staff. Closing it makes no sense whatsoever from an educational point of view. If the motive is purely financial then the motive is flawed. Do not close this school.

    Reply
  6. James Lucock

    I would like to thank all who attended the meeting, and would like to make it clear that the Education service were aware of the meeting, but did not receive an official invite.

    The whole premise of the meeting was to inform parents of the current proposals in more detail and try to inform councillors of the strength of public feeling on this matter ahead of the full council meeting this Thursday.

    James Lucock – Sandwick JH School Parent Council Chairman.

    Reply
  7. Johan Adamson

    £907 saving only if the bairns never need another teacher in their lifetimes and the secondary part of the building disappears with the admin at the education department in a puff of smoke.

    Love the idea of busing Lerwick bairns to the junior highs where there are much better buildings and a much more family atmosphere and a much shorter journey for the bairns.

    Reply
  8. John R L Robertson

    As somebody said to me recently: “How is it that before the oil came the SIC could afford all the schools and with a lot more pupils?”

    Reply
  9. veronica bellotti

    I agree sandy Mcdonald. My son and daughter went there in the late 90’s.

    It is a fantastic school,teachers marvelous.very modern,and even though my two children were not disabled,they had the building made to accommodate such pupils and students.I would hate to see it go.

    Reply

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