Maybe I’m just tired – it’s been a long month for everyone on the Westside – maybe I’m a little delusional, but I thought that it was a cracking good debate at da toon hall last Thursday on the future of education in Shetland! What a fitting start to the proceedings with such a deserved eulogy to Bill Smith, whose vision, courage and faith in a new and controversial endeavour, launched the Junior High School framework in Shetland. This has delivered not only academic excellence in the peripheral areas of a peripheral region, but has been perhaps the single most important factor responsible for the present confidence, vigour and vitality of our islands’ rural communities. Thank you Bill for so much that we currently enjoy in these beautiful, wild, remote regions.
And a huge thank you to The Ten, those courageous and envisioned councillors who were – who are – prepared to pick up the baton and run with Bill Smith’s legacy and propel these amazing schools well into the 21st century. With their bold and innovative thinking, they wrested the initiative from those blinkered by fiscal caution, by projecting a future for education in remote areas that could be of significant value not only to Shetland, but to marginal economies worldwide.
The vote of 12 to 10 against an amendment that would have seen a moratorium on the school closures programme until this new council is established and has had a chance to prioritise its saving’s agenda, reveals that a substantial number of elected members have grave concerns about the Blueprint proposals. And ponder this: it is likely that if all members of the education and families committee who were entitled to vote, had done so at their meeting on the 14th September, these proposals – even with the chairwoman’s vote and the questionable vote of the religious representatives – would not have proceeded to the Full Council meeting. The Refresh the Blueprint lobby does not have an overwhelming mandate to impose its unimaginative and divisive scheme onto the communities that have so benefitted from having ready access to superb education.
This process will now rumble on …but a warning! At the beginning of last Thursday’s meeting, councillor Gary Robinson failed to mention that there were 1,100 signatories from the Westside on the petition (gathered in a mere 48 hours!) presented to himself and councillor Theo Smith ahead of the meeting! There is a solidarity out wast, the like of which has astonished us all, that the Aith Junior High School secondary department will not close. So I am indebted to those of our esteemed councillors who continually express a very high regard for democracy, because I am confident that, now our voice has been heard, they will want to honour and support us in our determination to see our fine rural schools, not only enhanced and adapted to continue to deliver excellent 21st century education at the heart of the communities they serve, but to deliver it with due regard to the economic reality in which we now find ourselves.
The word consultation, as used in this “closure” narrative, is a politically prescribed euphemism. It means: “tell us your concerns and we’ll extract from them only what we need to further our agenda and dump the rest”. I am confident that if ever a framework was devised for a genuine consultation (little “c”) process, workable solutions would be found for the successful delivery of education in Shetland within a much reduced budget. Believe it or not there is an intelligent and articulate constituency out there, fully aware of the economic reality, longing to be constructively engaged – not dictated to.
We look forward to being able to work creatively together with all rural communities, our bold elected members, our talented local government officials and the team that will establish a brilliant new AHS, to ensure the rural network of JH schools will continue “to enable pupils to become successful learners, who are confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens”.
Aith Junior High School Parent Council.