School campaigners plan celebration march

Sandwick JHS is one of those which could switch to an S1-S2 model. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Sandwick JHS is one of those which could switch to an S1-S2 model. Photo: Dave Donaldson

A march to celebrate education in Shetland’s country areas will make its way through Lerwick next month.

The Communities United for Rural Education (CURE) group will be marching through the town on Saturday 7th June, starting at 11am from the Market Cross. The march is being held to celebrate rural education in junior high schools and primary schools in areas which are under threat.

People from all rural areas, from the North Isles to the South Mainland are expected to take part, and CURE secretary Gordon Thomson hopes for a good turnout. Mr Thomson said: “We feel strongly that rural education should be upheld. We hope the Jarl’s Squad will take part, as well as schools sports teams in their strips and all sorts of groups.”

The CURE group hopes the protest will result in the retention of the existing schools which are earmarked for closure, most immediately Urafirth and North Roe, but also Sandness, and secondary departments in junior highs in Aith, Sandwick Mid Yell, Whalsay and Baltasound. Group members say that, especially as the new Anderson High School is not yet built, now is not the time to dismantle a successful system. CURE is also against the suggestion of having S1/S2 junior high schools.

The CURE group argues that the threatened rural schools have been built up by the SIC over many years, with excellent teaching facilities from nursery to secondary, with well-equipped grounds, sports fields and leisure centres and sports courts nearby.

This has encouraged families and teachers to move to rural areas. CURE feels that changes to this model will have the opposite effect, discouraging decentralisation and promoting a drift to the centre around Brae and Lerwick, where housing is already in short supply and prices are increasing.

CURE argues the SIC should instead be promoting rural education to age 16.

Mr Thomson said: “A lot of money been invested in junior highs. At Sandwick, for example, inspectors found a ‘spacious and attractive learning environment’, and these schools have attracted people to move to these areas in the past.” He pointed out that Mid Yell School, a £9 million “state of the art” school was only built three years ago.

If pupils are educated at junior high schools until the end of S4, they then have the option to move on to higher education at a high school or college, or into apprenticeships or workplaces.

Mr Thomson said: “This is a model which has worked well in the past and, given the uncertainty over a date for the new AHS, the future governance of the two Shetland colleges and the details on the working of the new Shetland Learning Partnership, is not the time to be dismantling a successful system.”

He added that in the recent consultation on Sandwick JHS, the vast majority of pupils, parents, staff and community councils voiced their desire to retain this present model and were clearly not interested in an S1/S2 school. This model has not been tried and tested and will not be popular, resulting in the demise and eventual closure of junior highs.

He referred to the conclusion in Eduction Scotland’s report: “It is not clear to HM inspectors that the current proposal of S1/S2 is the most viable or reasonable option.”

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16 comments

  1. Robert Duncan

    Some fairly selective quoting on show there with the closing line. Education Scotland also said,

    “The council has made a clear case that for, reasons of financial sustainability and the need to develop a coherent senior phase for young people which meets their diverse needs and aspirations, the current arrangement of providing education for the S1 to S4 stages at Sandwick Junior High School is neither viable nor in the best interests of children and young people.”

    I feel this group would have a much better chance of success if they start to accept that S1-S4 simply does not fit with the new national curriculum. If you want the national curriculum to change, time wasted criticising local education officials could be better spent lobbying MSPs.

    Reply
    • Johan Adamson

      Note how the financial sustainability comes first. They could still have a diverse senior phase if they could think a bit differently; use IT, the VC and have bairns and teachers travelling between schools

      Reply
      • Robert Duncan

        How do you propose we pay for that?

      • Johan Adamson

        No hostel.

        Closing Sandwick, Aith etc doesnt save that much. It just moves the budget to Lerwick, where they still need to teach them and feed them. There would be only one specialist teacher in Lerwick say for Latin, which all the schools could use by VC or travel.

      • Johan Adamson

        Also no busing

      • Robert Duncan

        “Closing Sandwick, Aith etc doesn’t save much”

        This just isn’t true.

      • Johan Adamson

        OK Robert, how much will it save? Remember to include the cost of the buses, and the fact that you have to employ the teachers for two years anyway, and include some estimate for the damage to communities, loss of jobs, on going costs of the redundant school estate, etc.

  2. Phoenix Todd

    The council need to understand the effect of school closures on the outer areas of Shetland. We were all set for a move to Shetland this year, with the impression that schools are excellent and boarding isnt necessary until S5. However after hearing of the possible closures of the north isles’ junior highs, I couldn’t bear sending my kids away so young and have decided to put our move to shetland on hold.
    I doubt we are the only ones who consider education a major influence on moving to Shetland. Also worth noting is whether investing in property in the outer areas is a safe investment. I do believe house prices will fall in areas where there are no local junior high options for the children.
    These are my views – from an outsider looking in – closing the schools is not the way to go.

    Reply
  3. Stuart Hannay

    I’ve just read through the report and both quotations are in there, however the tone of the report overwhelmingly reflects the views that most teachers (not just those in Sandwick), pupils and parents see the S1 & S2 model as a bad idea. It does indeed say that the current arrangement “is neither viable nor in the best interests of children and young people.” However, the report is generally sceptical about the council’s proposed savings and the educational benefits:
    “In its final consultation report, the council needs to define what it means by a common curriculum and how this will be achieved to enhance the transition process [and] needs to provide further details on the proposed arrangement for sharing teachers across schools to demonstrate how these arrangements will benefit children ….and are a viable and cost effective option. The council needs to set out more clearly and transparently the financial case for the proposal and how the cost savings have been calculated [and] needs to set out clearly the arrangements it will make to reduce any potential negative impact on the community [and] address the reasonable concerns of consultees on the travel arrangements it proposes”.

    This is not a criticism of individual officers in the department and I’m not interested in doing that. However the report is a clear condemnation of how the process has been conducted and the lack of clarity with regards to educational benefits and financial savings.

    Reply
  4. Iris Sandison

    Some more quotes for Robert Duncan: This is from the P&J, 10/06/11…’ ‘Closing rural schools simply to save money is illegal,’ the education secretary warned Scottish local authorities yesterday. Michael Russell said schools are often at the social and economic heart of many communities and should only be closed for educational reasons.’

    Also from Mike Russell when he was in Shetland: ‘CfE is not dependant on buildings or numbers.’ And… ‘Local authorities must be crystal clear about the educational case for shutting schools and the impact such closures will have on communities.’ (Radio Shetland interview.)

    Reply
    • Robert Duncan

      Mike Russell is a politician, working for a party who will say almost anything to win a vote. He is not an educationalist, and the fact is that national level educationalists say S1 to S4 is no longer a viable option.

      My point was not in support of S1 to S2, which despite some initial enthusiasm from me looks a load of nonsense. Nor was I explicitly speaking in favour of closing the schools(s). I was simply making the point that, if folk want to see S1 to S4 remain, it’s time to start lobbying the policy makers, because they’ve made it quite clear where the orders are coming from as regards Curriculum for Excellence.

      Reply
  5. ian tinkler

    I personally regard the closure of rural schools as an utter stupidity. If funds are available for Mareel and Viking Energy and interconnectors (one billion), how can we tolerate are communities and children’s welfare being jeopardised? I just ask Mr. Robert Duncan for his own opinion on what he feels are the priorities here. I am just a little tired of his endless snipping at the views of others, without a single original idea of his own. Just please put up or shut up Robert.

    Reply
    • Robert Duncan

      Mr Tinkler, please do not be so disingenuous. I have stated my views many times over and you yourself have responded to them frequently.

      I do not think my comments on these pages constitute personal sniping, and I apologise if anybody found them confrontational. That said, the views expressed here tend to be very one sided and a lot of misinformation goes unchecked.

      I think many people overlook the gravity of the situation we find ourselves in. Savings have to be made, or future generations will be burdened with far bigger problems than the closure of Sandwick secondary department could ever have caused. Whether education should make the level of savings it has been asked to is a question worth asking but it certainly needs to save in some areas and as things stand it is secondary education that is by far the least efficient area. The alternative is yet more changes to the relatively efficient primary school estate, or yet more cuts to the increasingly thin budgets of individual schools.

      The debate around these issues is not helped by the partisanship of communities. Of course, I fully understand the level of emotion, but a productive debate is needed and some concessions have to be made somewhere. Many of the people who flatly oppose school closures also flatly opposed the cutting of knitting instruction or the reductions to music tuition. Where can the savings realistically be made if everything looked at is met with cries, “we like things as they are!” ?

      Reply
      • Johan Adamson

        There are other things apart from rural education that you could cut, as many have pointed out. You have been through education yourself, you must know how important it is. We are more than losing education with these things, we are losing our community and our culture. Shetland is well known for being friendly and welcoming, and for its knitting and music. All that is coming to a stop. We will have nothing to sell to tourists, they might as well visit some other auld rock if we are homogenised.

        SIC employees are not best placed to allocate the cuts as others have pointed out, they are not going to vote themselves out of a job. Teachers and other school staff will be cut. And this group will have to leave Shetland as they are least likely to want to be redeployed.

      • Ali Inkster

        UK defict £107 billion yet they are going to spend £20 billion on shaving 20 minutes off the train journey London to Birmingham.

        Scotlands deficit £13.5 billion yet they are going to spend £2 billion shaving 10 minutes off the travel time of MSPs crossing the forth.

        Shetland has a surplus of £5.5 billion yet we are closing schools and adding up to 2 hours travel time for our bairns.

        Say this out loud and see if it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

        It’s time we started putting Shetland first.

  6. Jack Brunton

    Is it just me or is ironic that the proposed
    celebration of rural education will take place in “da toon”?

    Reply

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