17th March 2018
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Secondary departments saved from closure

Some of the many protesters outside the town hall. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Some of the many protesters outside the town hall. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Secondary school departments at Aith and Sandwick have been saved from closure following a massive day of debate at the town hall.

However pupils in the West Side and South Mainland may only be educated in their own communities until they reach the end of S2.

That was the proposal by vice chairman of education and families, George Smith. His call to save pupils fresh out of primaries from the prospect of lengthy bus journeys or stays in the Lerwick hostel found favour with other councillors.

Members voted 18-4 in favour of his alternative plan during a full council meeting lasting over two hours. That came after a lengthy education and families meeting where councillors also backed Mr Smith by 10 votes to two.

The move means director of children’s services Helen Budge will begin preparing a consultation on the changes from as early as tomorrow.

It comes after education consultant Don Ledingham prepared a lengthy report which recommended both Aith and Sandwick junior highs be closed as part of an effort to save £2.3 million from the education budget – a good chunk of the overall £3.26 million which needs to be saved.

Other junior high schools in Whalsay, Yell and Unst will also see their education for third and fourth year children brought to a halt, as recommended.

Bus-loads of campaigners turned up at the town hall before today’s meetings in what was recognised as the largest public demonstration in over 20 years. Before the first of the meetings began a petition of over 1,800 signatures gathered in just 72 hours was presented on the steps of the town hall.

The townhall was full upstairs as the debate was streamed from the council chambers to a big screen. Photo: Dave Donaldson

The townhall was full upstairs as the debate was streamed from the council chambers to a big screen. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Around 140 people filled the main hall up the stairs to listen to the debates, and regularly stamped their feet on the floor above the chamber to make their feelings clear.

Retaining at least some of the secondary schooling in Aith and Sandwick will leave a potential shortfall of £600,000 in the efficiency plans.

However Mr Smith said that was a small price to pay for equal education across the isles.

He pointed to savings of £7 million that had been made by the education department in recent years. Approving the report would leave the council spending 32 per cent of its budget on schools, compared with a 39 per cent education spend in other local authorities.

Mr Smith called for a report to be brought back to councillors on how much more cash would need to be saved once the statutory consultation has concluded – but that was only after his initial calls for all council budgets to be examined prompted an uncomfortable reaction from fellow members.

Referring to the strength of protest from parent councils in the run-up to the meeting, Mr Smith said councillors would have heard “loud and clear” the concerns being expressed across the isles.

“We owe it to Shetland communities to come forward with a sustainable educational system,” he said.

He was supported by West Side member Frank Robertson who said the farthest out pupils in the West Side would face journey times of 80 to 85 minutes, rather than just over an hour which has previously been reported. Backing Professor Ledingham’s recommendations would amount to “going back to the fifties”, Mr Robinson insisted.

“Pupils from the outlying areas are going to be completely disadvantaged compared with those from Lerwick. They are going to miss out on after schools activity.”

Mr Smith’s proposal did not meet with unanimous support, however.

Jonathan Wills insisted backing Mr Smith would “drive a bus through” the council’s own financial and education policies.

“This is gross financial irresponsibility on a grand scale. The auditors are watching this council. We’re not out of the woods. A year ago we were selling £100,000 of stocks and shares a day to pay the wages that would have generated £5,000.”

However members preferred the idea of retaining Aith and Sandwick after hearing assurances from chief executive Mark Boden that the constitution allowed for the change of plan. Asked by Dr Wills whether the move was legal, convener Malcolm Bell said that would only become a factor when decisions were made on actual closure. The report before councillors today, he said, was only a strategic document.

Earlier in the day the original proposal, to close Sandwick and Aith junior highs, was proposed by chairwoman Vaila Wishart but was only supported by one other councillor.

More from today’s meetings and reaction to the news in Friday’s Shetland Times.

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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  1. Hugh Jamieson

    Sandwick school saved by Sandwick councillor. £600,000 will now be taken away from some other service. These councillors have no backbone.

    • John Tulloch

      No “backbone”, perhaps, but they did show ‘a coarn o’ wit” and they had the guts to stand up to the glossy “hired gun” brought in fae Sooth by Children’s Services to face down any recalcitrance in the council chamber.

      A glossy “hired gun” who, it would appear, was unable to answer the recalcitrants’ questions as to why Shetland’s educational costs are higher than those of other places when you compare like with like.

      Another pet project, another Lerwick showpiece, another “best in the world” badge at the expense of country kids and their families.

      • Hugh Jamieson

        “Hired gun” what rubbish! – I repeat – what service will lose £600k plus to pay for this? Social care? road gritting? Maybe if we keep on over spending we will run out of money altogether. Then even more schools will close. Will you be happy then? Council cuts yes, but not in my backyard.

    • Neil Williamson

      Hugh Jamieson,
      Councilors are actually ellected to represent the views and thoughts of the public, so unless you are totally blind and unaware of the strong just feelings of these people, myself included, then, please read this Leddinghams nonsense report and then report back. Oh, where in Shetland do you live, Hugh?

  2. John K Smith

    Now all Shetland junior high schools have equal provision, Whalsay, Yell, Unst, Aith and Sandwick up to the end of S2. It may not be an ideal result (that would be the status quo) but at least it is fair and councillors were unanimous, well almost.
    Whether or not the parent groups for these junior high schools accept this as an outcome will be debated in the days and weeks to come. We understand that the Scottish Government can consider any school proposal and reverse it if a community and other interested parties appeal a closure decision made by a local authority.

    • Johan Adamson

      Interesting that few of them were going for the original proposal. My faith in them half restored. If the amendment had never been proposed, a decision would not have been made at all, which would surely have been worse.

    • Dave Hambidge

      Exactly what SIC are hoping for. MSP’s at Holyrood will take no risks in referendum year and will veto the plans, giving SIC leverage to “demand” more money to supply the service they have deemed too expensive. What then?

      Keep up the challenges folks.

      • Neil Williamson

        Dave, I agree, and the suggestions of shipping the outer isles kids to the hostel early will give the new Anderson near full capacity, hence make the money available.

  3. Martyn Fisher

    Yes Council just showed a big Yellow streak down spines today… I ken i am out of sorts with a lot of my friends, and i do want to see the Yell School saved… However Aith and Sandwick not so sure.. Where is the money going to come from to support this decision ?…

  4. John Tulloch

    @Hugh Jamieson,

    Ledingham was a “hired gun”, alright, told what to say coated in sophistry to intimidate the “hick” doubters with the authority of his glossy CV. He failed in that and, indeed, is apparently unable to differentiate between islands separated by miles of sea and islands joined by short road causeways.

    As I live in Argyll and my own children are grown up it’s hardly “my back yard”.

    In my life in Shetland I only ever lived in Lerwick and my children were educated there too so I have no axe to grind with these comments except that I like to see both logic and fair play and I’m not seeing either.

    SIC need to get the blinkers off and see past the tinsel on the wrapping paper. Any solution which leads to depopulation of the country areas isn’t a solution, it’s simply creating another problem which will require to be addressed with money, in due course.

    • Neil Williamson

      I believe Leddingham was actualy a PE teacher. He may possibly be a professor now, but has anyone confirmed his qualifications?

  5. Johan Adamson

    @Hugh Jamieson

    They need to design all the services then work out how much this is going to cost. The SIC is also still wealthier than all the other councils. We can afford to pay more for education than other things. I know they have made cuts, but I am sure there are still cuts which can be made elsewhere. They still could be a lot smaller and employ less of the population. They have hardly started, they have just taken 10% off each department. Some areas need more than a little trim, they need axing altogether or maybe even outsourced?

  6. Hazel Spence

    Hugh Jamieson you seem to be on the same page of the book as Dr Wills. Only worried about £600,000! Not your children who will have to leave home not ready to emotionally or maybe even socially able to cope with being hostelled for 5 nights a week. The extra cost for hostel provision for our children has not been mentioned, neither has the added transport for ASN pupils, whether the hostel even has the provisions and staff to cope with the extra numbers. I really think £600,000 is a small price to pay for Aith and Sandwick to have their schools saved. Is the declining numbers in the AHS the driving factor in this. To achieve the pupil numbers they need for a new school? Boosted by rural children? Standard grade education does shape us for the future but I think family life really does. We are currently at the point the SIC is denying every JHS pupil the choice for this from the age of 13-16. We are taking from frontline services but instead should look at the top, for example SIC councillors claimed nearly £27,000 more expenses than Orkney councillors 2012/2013. Should things like this be looked at??

  7. Michael Bilton

    We begin to see some rationality enter this discussion. Those who wish simply to cut budgets may know the price of everything but the value of nothing. Where children are concerned the essential question is not what is best for the SIC budgetary programme – but what is best for the children. Perhaps what Shetland needs is a fully independent external root and branch examination of its finances to see how the SIC has been managed. My personal view is that the moving of young kids to hostels away from their families would never have been sustained if it was challenged legally, because parents could always fall back on the provision of the European Convention of Human Rights which guarantees citizens the right to a family life. Children are covered by that basic human right. Education officials and councillors should have had that in the back of their minds well before they began making policy decisions about where savings in the budget should come from.

    • Neil Williamson

      Well said Michael, the / our human rights would be not taken into account if we, us as parents and our children, have no choice but to ship bairns to Lerwick.

  8. Ian Tinkler

    “Last month Chairman Danus Skene said that once the capital account was settled he was confident the organisation (Shetland Arts) could sustain itself financially with its current £750,000 annual grant from the Charitable Trust.” I know where I would find the cash shortfall of £600,000. Now Mareel, with its widely acclaimed, better than expected cinema ticket sales must be so profitable, as to be over its insolvency, surely this £750,000 annual grant to Shetland Arts, can be reduced enabling funds to be put to better use.

    • Neil Williamson

      Totally agree, Mareel is the bain on outlying communities!

    • Johan Adamson

      I dont know if everybody will see this as humourous Ian

  9. Carl Pickard

    You still hear Tinkler? Yaaaawwwnnnn………..

    • John Tulloch

      Yawning is infectious, Carl, especially, when the yawner has nothing of interest to contribute to the discussion.

  10. Brian Smith

    Jonathan’s query about whether or not it is illegal to disagree with him is really a waste of hard-working officials’ time.

  11. Johan Adamson

    I think its all a bit of a mess now. Lerwick is upset cos they’ve found out that they’re not in the best school, that buses and the hostel or provision of a junior high means spend on country bairns (is that not why they started staying in the junior highs up to 16? – the hostel like boarding school being a perceived advantage over Lerwick bairns?), the isles are upset at losing their bairns to the hostel at 14 and they will then probably never return (but is that more to do with jobs and opportunities?), Aith and Sandwick are busy trying to work out what to do now. Some of the parents probably went to the hostel at 14 too; it does seem to be a retrograde step. Meanwhile, some of the primary schools are so short of bairns, some parents are moving them to larger schools themselves, perceiving that more pupils is better, and not having after school clubs etc meaning it is difficult if you work in Lerwick, leading to the eventual closure of that school, such as Bressay. And is this all budget driven? If a school closes, does the budget move to the new school with the bairn like it should or do they take it all as savings? We need to sort this out with some sort of equity and reasoning around educational need, not money.

    What I dont understand is why is the hostel in Lerwick, when it is North Isles and Whalsay bairns which would be in it, mainly? Surely they should be going to Brae? Why is Brae not treated like an equal high school to Lerwick? Ive heard its a much better school.

    • Robert Duncan

      On your Brae question, I think isles families have generally been against that, and the feeling seemed to remain in the recent consultation (although most comments I read rejected traveling daily to Brae rather than the idea of a hostel being built there, which is obviously very different).

      I’m not sure where you’ve heard Brae is a much better school but there is a very little truth in the statement.

      • Sheila Tulloch

        I am not sure where you would hear Brae is a better school, or how you would know there was no truth in the statement? There must be few pupils who have actually had experience of both? In my own experience, my daughter chose Brae over AHS for her further education & I know would not have considered doing her 6th year, if she had to go to Lerwick. My other daughter hated AHS when she went to 5th year, so that was probably a factor in the choice.

      • Johan Adamson

        If the whole plan is based on Orkney with no junior highs on the mainland and 2 highs, then you would need to give Brae an equal billing to Lerwick, like Stromness and Kirkwall, with bairns going to the closest school geographically. I am not sure there would be a hostel option if they were so close? And would it not be preferable to a hostel in Lerwick for Yell for further education. Why Robert Duncan do you believe Brae not to be a better school and what can be done to improve it?

      • Robert Duncan

        First of all, be clear that I never suggested Brae was a poor school or even that the Anderson is better. I would broadly agree with Sheila in that every has its strengths and weaknesses. J just felt it was a rather baseless claim to say Brae was “much better”.

        That said, the Anderson does have better attainment figures and a higher proportion of students moving to positive destinations. I expect it will also move further away in terms of the opportunities it can offer in future as the increased numbers will make things considerably more viable.

  12. ian tinkler

    I hear you Carl, probably be here long after Shetland Arts gravy train is no more, and Mareel passes on to competent management.. Johan, many a true word spoken in jest.

  13. Hugh Jamieson

    Neil Williamson – I come from South Nesting.

    Our councillors have a responsibility to balance the books and make decisions that may be unpopular. It is a reality that we are spending far more than we receive. Let’s keep on throwing away all our money at this rate and we will have faceless people in Edinburgh running our council.

    The proposal that was voted down will require cuts to all other services (which incidentally have taken at least 2 rounds of 10% cuts). I hope you bear this in mind when the roads are not gritted, social care levels cut , reductions in bin collections etc.


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