Casting vote sees committee back Skerries closure

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Members of Shetland Islands Council’s education and families committee have backed recommendations to close the Skerries secondary department on the casting vote of chairwoman Vaila Wishart.

North Isles member Gary Cleaver launched a bid for the council to consider retaining secondary education in the isle for pupils up until the end of S2 at today’s town hall meeting over the department’s future.

But Ms Wishart made the casting vote after making an amendment to bring secondary lessons in Skerries to a close from next year after councillors tied at 5-5.

Mr Cleaver’s motion would have been in line with the call last month by the committee’s vice chairman George Smith to retain S1 and S2 education in Aith and Sandwick junior highs.

It also would have proved a winner if unelected religious representative Radina McKay had exercised her right to vote.

She told members she supported Mr Cleaver’s motion but would not be casting a vote after being asked not to by councillors. Members insisted it was not SIC policy to discourage religious representatives from voting.

The case in favour of closure was put forwards by director of children’s services Helen Budge and quality improvement manager Audrey Edwards.

Mrs Budge argued children who take their lessons in Skerries would benefit from an improved quality of education if they attended classes at the Anderson High School.

Ms Wishart said she did not believe the council was currently providing the best educational experience for pupils in Skerries.

She said children’s services was unable to provide equality of opportunity in certain areas, such as team sports.

She argued holding lessons for S1-S2 youngsters in Skerries would only lead to further isolation, as the secondary department would soon find itself with tiny numbers in its school role.

“Children have rights. They have a right to a quality of education that allows them to achieve their full potential.”

Mr Cleaver pointed to a visit to the isles by education minister Mike Russell, who – he said – had argued that the curriculum for excellence could be delivered in any school regardless of size.

“That’s the whole point of curriculum for excellence. It’s flexible and adjustable,” he said.

Gary Robinson said the possible closure was not about saving money insisting the measures were “about education first and last”.

He described attending the Anderson High himself for lessons in 1983 after having had two years of lessons in Scalloway. He said pupils who had come from outer isles from the first year had had a “head-start” over him.

Billy Fox highlighted figures in a socio-economic report which showed Skerries had punched above its weight.

Whitefish boats operating out of Skerries had landed catches since 2010 worth £2.7 million.

Michael Stout placed value on families and communities. George Smith said his “judgment” in the case of Skerries was that children would receive a better education at the Anderson High.

Should the decision be ratified by tomorrow’s full council it means the three pupils will transfer to the Anderson High School in Lerwick from next August and stay in the hostel.

Full coverage of the council meeting and reaction from Skerries will be included in Friday’s Shetland Times.

About Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor is a reporter at The Shetland Times

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51 comments

  1. Iain Murray

    Sign the petition to reverse this decision. Save Out Skerries Secondary School

    https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/shetland-islands-council-save-out-skerries-secondary-school

    Reply
  2. john irvine

    So Gary Robinson says when he went to the Anderson after having attended Scalloway junior high that the outer isles pupils had 2 years head start on him, what pupils were that Gary?

    The majority of the isles bairns went to the Anderson at the beginning of sec 3 the same as himself. Is all the strain of being a political leader getting a bit too much for mr Robinsons brain or is he just twisting the facts to suit himself and the council?

    Reply
    • Robert Duncan

      He’s speaking about the likes of Fair Isle and Foula.

      Reply
    • Johan Adamson

      I dont think they had a head start. I think they were very alone at 11 years old and many of them do not have a positive experience of the hostel. Whereas, if you ask those attending at 13, they usually loved it.

      Reply
  3. Christopher hay

    When it was just me and my younger brother in the skerries secondary it was said that the savings would be £92,000 if they closed it, how can it cost nearly £20,000 less to run 9years later with the same number of pupils? The price of everything has gone up, electricity, transport for visiting teachers, paper and pencils! They just seem to make up costs to make skerries look more of an expense than it is! I had an excellent education at skerries and im positive my education would have suffered if i had been forced away from home at the age of 12.

    and for those who have been told lies about Skerries secondary, it is a room in the same building as the primary and nursery, NOT a separate building.

    Reply
  4. John Tulloch

    “Children have rights. They have a right to a quality of education that allows them to achieve their full potential.”

    Stay quiet, you foolish children..er..parents, “Nanny” knows best!

    Reply
  5. john irvine

    I know that Robert, but how many was that? a very small percentage and not enough for him to make a qoute like he did.

    Anyone in his position should not be stating false facts!

    Reply
    • Robert Duncan

      It is not a “false fact”. The quote clearly refers to outer isles only, and to those who started in first year only. By all means refute the point itself, but your mention of the larger isles is an irrelevance.

      Reply
  6. Johan Adamson

    Why dont they go to Whalsay until 16? Save the junior highs. Surely a ferry could go between the two twice a day? And it wouldnt be so far away?

    Reply
    • Christopher Ritch

      Or just keep Skerries open. No money will be saved by closing it if honest financial information is used. They say it will cost 2.75 per pupil per day for hostel costs, that will not even cover the cost of their breakfast.

      Reply
      • Christopher Ritch

        I have made a mistake in my comment above. The 2.75 per day is not per pupil, it is for all 3 pupils!

        Ryan Arthur: Currently the hostel costs £900,000 per year to run. Is this correct?

        Councillor Vaila Wishart: Yes, something like that.

        Ryan Arthur: This works out as £18,750 per pupil between 48 pupils. At one time Hayfield quoted the additional cost of taking three Skerries pupils at £2.75 per day. Is that still the case?

        Shona Thompson: As far as I know yes. This is because the staff are in situ and no more resources would be needed.

      • Johan Adamson

        No, you’re right Christopher, the cost of keeping them in the hostel must be about the same as keeping them in Skerries. But if they are worried about there being more pupils, they could go to their nearest school, which isnt Lerwick.

      • Johan Adamson

        If the bairns went to the nearest Jh, they wouldnt need a hostel at all

      • Johan Adamson

        They would need to use the same management accountancy logic on the closures of the junior highs. There would be no saving at all as the schools already exist, even if they move the bairns out.

      • Robert Duncan

        Ms Adamson, I expect given the low variable costs of hostel provision that daily travel to Whalsay would be rather a lot more expensive than accommodation in Lerwick. I say that as somebody who agrees a daily travel option should be considered for families, but I think we should be clear that the arguments in favour of that wouldn’t really be financial.

        As regards the comments that children staying in the hostel would cost about the same as them staying in Skerries, this is fundamentally untrue. The saving quoted takes account of all the additional costs.

        Your comment on “management accountancy logic” also betrays the figures surrounding junior highs; maintenance overheads on the buildings are very low in comparison to staffing costs, which is where the targeted savings lie. It has very little to do with the building.

      • Christopher Ritch

        That’s right Johan, and we needn’t pay the council tax any more either. After all, the rubbish lorry is already going past our houses, what difference does it make if there is one extra bag to throw in the back?

        @ John Tulloch: Martin Tregonning voted to close Skerries.

      • Christopher Ritch

        Robert, what do you think is the real cost of hostel accommodation for 3 pupils? 2.75 per day? It was the same when they closed the Uyeasound school, a figure was listed as a saving for school meals which were not being eaten in Uyeasound any more, but no cost was added to provide meals at Baltasound. I still have to pay for school dinners though.

      • John Tulloch

        So Tregonning voted to close Skerries and McKay couldn’t be persuaded to vote for closure but effectively did so by not voting with her stated conscience after allegedly being prevailed upon by “councillors” not to vote, resulting in the need for a casting vote by Vaila Wishart?

        “Suffer the little children to come unto Wills, Wishart and Budge”, said the Pharisees.

      • Robert Duncan

        The hostel isn’t operating at capacity, therefore I have no reason not to believe the estimates provided wherein there is no increase to staffing costs. It costs very little on a per person basis to cook meals for a group of 50+.

      • Christopher Ritch

        Robert, if it costs so little to feed the hostel bairns, why was there a proposal last year to charge parents 25 pounds per week towards the cost of their meals?

        By your logic, nobody should have to pay fees for planning applications – the staff are there already, it makes no difference if I submit an application or not, they will still be paid the same. You cannot pick and choose who has costs apportioned to them and who does not – when the new hostel is built will the rooms for the Skerries children be built for free?

      • Robert Duncan

        The proposed charge was not specifically for food, to my knowledge. It was just a general charge for the cost of accommodation. Thankfully they did not bring that in as it would have been ridiculous to have done so.

        I’m not sure I follow your point in the second paragraph. The staff are there and can accommodate the small number of Skerries pupils without alterations to the current provision. There is no picking and choosing who has costs appointed to them – the cost per pupil for a Skerries child’s education may still be higher than some other places but the total cost of education in Shetland will come down.

        Even on that basis, the average cost of hostel provision (£18.8k, apparently), plus the average cost per pupil at the AHS (around £7k, I believe) would still provide a lot of leeway for transport costs and costs transferred to the primary before you hit the £50-60k it costs to educate a child in Skerries.

        The numbers are going to be 2-4 for several years to come, probably even less than the general fluctuation in numbers from the larger isles, I don’t think we have to fret too much about the new hostel holding them. That building is currently earmarked for about 100 beds anyway, so any increase would depend more on the future of the larger junior highs than on the comparatively tiny increases brought by Skerries pupils.

        (I would also add, the cost of hostel provision as quoted in the proposal paper is £1,644. Divided by 191 school days, and by the three pupils, that comes to more like £2.85 per pupil, not that sum for all three.)

      • Christopher Ritch

        Robert, the 25 pound charge was for meals;

        “education and families committee chairwoman Betty Fullerton had been content that the charge was simply to cover the cost of food. She contended that it would make the system fairer, because parents with children who stay at home throughout the school week already have to pay to keep them fed and watered.”

        So 2.85 X 5days = 14.25 per pupil, which is not enough to cover the costs of food.
        So the figures are WRONG.
        No surprise to those of us who have been victims of past reports with exaggerated savings.

        Your figures for the cost of education in Skerries are also wrong. Where are you getting the 50 – 60K number from?

        Janice Thomason: “The actual cost in Skerries secondary now is £110,000″

        A bit less than the 150,000 – 180,000 which you are suggesting?

      • Robert Duncan

        £50-60k is the current cost per pupil, but I’ll accept that the third pupil coming in will (momentarily) reduce that, and therefore withdraw the flippant aside I made in my earlier comment. The savings are still there, however.

        I don’t accept that the proposed charge was purely for meals as I have never seen an official document suggesting such. I had a look on the council website and all the related documents and minutes I found referred to it as a charge for “meals and accommodation”.

        You say you’ve been the victims of exaggerated savings in the past, but other closures such as Scalloway have saved more than projected.

      • Christopher Ritch

        Fair points Robert, but it is not just food, is it? If you are heating a cauldron of soup for 50 and an extra 3 portions are added (all the reports I have seen state 3 pupils) you increase the amount of energy needed by 6%. That is simple physics. Will the Skerries children have electric lights in their room? Or heating?

        2.85 per day is not a realistic figure.

        Another thing in the report which puzzles me –

        “7.22 Budget for learning materials, meal supplies and school meals income would transfer, overall this
        would amount to a total of £177.”

        But in Appendix 4, sale of meals to pupils is stated as an annual saving of 936 pounds.

        Does that make any sense to you?

      • Robert Duncan

        That is simple physics indeed – too simple I would argue! I very much doubt the energy requirements of a pot of soup are entirely linear! In fact I doubt there is much increase at all in the energy requirements or staffing requirements of the kitchen, therefore cooking for, say, 52 rather than 49, is not going to make a big difference at all.

        Regarding the point 7.22, it seems poorly worded but I would take it to mean that learning materials and meals provision would bring an increase of £759, offset by the transferred income on school meals (the school hour meals, which are not free for secondary pupils). £936 – £759 = £177.

      • Johan Adamson

        Robert Duncan are you replying on behalf of the education department?

      • Robert Duncan

        No Johan, I have no affiliation to the Education Department nor the Council in general. The current educational reforms are simply a matter of personal significance for me as they are everybody else in Shetland.

    • Christopher Ritch

      The soup certainly needs +6%, the total increase may be less, but the point is that there will be an increase.

      And it will be more than 2.85 per day.

      It is the 936 being included in the right hand column as an annual saving which I do not understand?

      Reply
      • John Tulloch

        Robert,

        W = mS(T2 – T1)

        Where W = Energy required to heat the soup (Joules)
        m = the mass of the soup (kg),
        S = specific heat capacity of soup (Joules/kgdegC),
        T1 = initial temperature of soup (degC) and
        T2 = temperature of heated soup (degC)

        Confucius (I think it was), said, “when in hole, stop digging!”

      • Robert Duncan

        You’d clearly make a better scientist than a chef, Mr Tulloch – there’s more to making soup than boiling water!

  7. Linsey Nisbet

    Educational benefits cannot, and should not, ever be weighed against the life-changing experience and possible emotional damage of removing a child from its secure home situation. Some children may feel equipped to leave their family at 11 years old, but MANY don’t.

    Reply
  8. Jenny Henry

    I’d be interested to hear what the Fair Isle and Foula folk think about this Skerries school saga. The children from those isles have always had to leave for Lerwick and the hostel once they’ve finished primary school, although I’m sure most of them would rather stay at home.

    Also glad Radina McKay didn’t vote; unelected representatives, religious or otherwise, shouldn’t have the right to vote.

    Reply
    • Christopher Ritch

      Martin Tregonning voted though…

      I hope the poor decision today gets called in by the Scottish Government.

      Reply
      • John Tulloch

        Which way did Tregonning vote, Ms McKay effectively voted for closure of Skerries Secondary but wanted everyone to think she wants to keep the place open?

        If she hasn’t the stomach for standing up to “councillors” who allegedly asked her not to vote she should resign – so much for the Christian martyrs!

  9. George Gillon

    I am sure that the European Court of Human Rights would rule differently. This move is clearly in breach of the UN Charter on International Rights of the Child, for family life and education. Perhaps dropping one councillor, maybe Ms Wishart, the SIC will save the fabled £74,000 per annum?

    Reply
    • Robert Duncan

      Setting aside for a moment how laughably undemocratic that proposal would be, I will instead focus on the sheer inaccuracy of your estimation. Councillors’ remuneration is public knowledge, I would suggest you look up the figures as your perception is rather far from truth.

      http://www.shetland.gov.uk/documents/1213COUNCILLORSREGISTER.pdf

      Reply
      • John Tulloch

        Nice try to divert attention from George’s main point, Robert.

        Nothing undemocratic about the European Court of Human Rights, though, is there?

      • Robert Duncan

        I’m not trying to “divert” from anything, I have no responsibility to discuss Human Rights. My point above isn’t even necessarily related to Skerries, just refuting the ridiculous implication that councillors are earning £74,000 a year.

      • John Tulloch

        I don’t dispute what councillors earn, the point about the European Court of Human Rights is an important one however as it’s a “check and balance” in the democratic system which can be appealed to when all reasonable means of protest through the usual channels have been exhausted yet the basic injustice still prevails.

        I expect Mike Russell, SNP Education Minister, will put a stop to this as the SNP are revising their school closure consultation process, clarifying, among other things, “the presumption against closure”.

  10. Johan Adamson

    If all the bairns went to junior highs then that would leave the hostel free for students studying highers at the college as well as those on apprenticeships etc at the college, who are meantime excluded from the hostel (I assume). This would put them all on an equal footing until they were 18.

    Reply
    • John Tulloch

      There’s a lot of sense in what you’re saying about this, Johan. It would be good to see it all put together as a case summary in one place, like a letter.

      Reply
  11. Marina Thomason

    It’s just as well this latest decision wasn’t based on saving money because once the parents start demanding that their bairns are flown in and out of the isle the same as pupils from Fair Isle and Foula it will probably end up costing the SIC money.

    Reply
    • Robert Duncan

      If it was like for like, they would have fewer trips home so the cost probably wouldn’t be vastly different.

      Reply
      • Marina Thomason

        Why would there be fewer trips home?

      • Robert Duncan

        Fair Isle pupils do not go home every weekend. I think it is every second or third week.

      • Johan Adamson

        Im feeling more and more sorry for the Fair Isle and Foula bairns, taen away from hom at 11 and not allowed back apart from the holidays. Two wrongs dont make a right. As Jenny says above, be interesting to hear from someone from these isles

      • G Leask

        Johan, – Our elected representative, Councillor Michael Stout, is from Fair Isle and thus is in a position to enlighten the council chamber with real life experiences and in-depth knowledge of having to attend the AHS and staying in the hostel. Therefore you should rest assured that the current Fair Isle and Foula bairns have a “voice”.

      • Johan Adamson

        A voice that got voted down by the casting vote was it not?

  12. Stuart Hannay

    The human rights issue in this and the other proposed closures are interesting;

    The Human Rights Act article states:

    “Separation of family members will normally constitute an interference with the right to respect for family life, although such interference may be justified, for example where a child is taken into care for his or her own protection or where a parent is sentenced to imprisonment”

    although there are some ‘qualifications’ listed:

    For an interference to be justified it must:

    Be ‘necessary in a democratic society’ – This is usually the crucial issue. There must be a good reason for the interference with the right and the interference must be proportionate which means that it should be no more than is necessary. If there is an alternative, less intrusive, way of achieving the same aim then the alternative measure should be used.

    Reply
  13. Alan Skinner

    Ms Wishart, in her election statement of April 2012, stated “Brae and the Anderson High should be the main centres for secondary education with the phased closure of most junior secondaries”. Her position has been quite clear from day one. It is interesting to wonder why, with such uneqivocal views, she was appointed as Chairwoman of the Education Committee.
    She also stated, in the same election statement, that “The workings of the council must be open and honest and not carried out by a few senior councillors and officials behind closed doors”. Given that statement, I am sure that she would like us all to know the names of the councillors who “asked” the religious representative not to vote, as well as the circumstances in which she was “asked”. I am also sure that she would like us to know whether the councillors in question are members of the education committee. She might also like to comment on whether the religious representative consulted with Ms Wishart, in her role as Chairwoman, as to whether she should vote, given the pressure she was under from councillors.
    A casting vote is an interesting aspect of democracy and should be used wisely.

    Yours

    Alan Skinner
    New House
    Cullivoe

    Reply
  14. John Tulloch

    I’ve just read the report on the decision by Mike Russell to allow the Skerries closure.

    The religious representatives, between them, are responsible for this. Shame.

    For those who, like me, are ‘black affronted’ by the travesty of democracy described above, there is a petition calling for the repeal of the legislation which requires local authorities to appoint religious representatives on to their education committees.

    Here’s a snippet from the petition background information:

    “• Despite the Church of Scotland claiming that they are impartial on Local Authority Education Committees, the Church and Society Council reported to the General Assembly that they ‘…estimate that these three Church Representatives hold the balance of power on 19 Local Authority Committees’ (Church of Scotland Church and Society Council Deliverance to CoS General Assembly May 2013 p3/31 para 11.4.3)”

    The petition can be found at: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/GettingInvolved/Petitions/PE01498

    Reply

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