Sounding Off by Vaila Wishart

SIC education and families committee chairwoman Vaila Wishart gives her personal view of the issues surrounding the Sandwick consultation, the need to make savings without compromising the quality of education, and the possible way forward.

Shetland is different from other councils. It has continued with a junior high school system when most other councils changed their systems to mainly all-through schools 30 or 40 years ago.

There are seven secondary schools in Shetland catering for fewer than 1,500 secondary pupils. The roll of the Anderson High School is 878; Brae 190; Aith 86; Whalsay 52; Mid Yell 42; Sandwick 151; and Baltasound 19. So there are five junior high schools for fewer than 350 pupils, which is the main reason that the cost per secondary pupil is just under £14,000, more than double the national average.

The Western Isles, with a bigger population than Shetland, has four sixth-year schools and one second year with a cost per pupil of £9,471. Orkney has a smaller school population with two sixth-year schools and three fourth-year. Their cost per pupil is £9,468.

The Blueprint for Education was commissioned in 2007 because it was recognised that if Shetland could reduce its pupil costs to match Eilean Siar it would save more than £4.8 million. The blueprint’s aim was to provide the best quality of educational opportunities and learning environment for all pupils as well as taking the opportunity to make savings to bring budgets to a sustainable level.

Since then we have had endless rounds of consultations, proposals, revisals of proposals and debate. The strategy report produced in November last year made clear the “danger of elected members continually seeking new reports and analyses, and the eventual undercutting of the service’s ability to perform its core function”.

Yet we continue to go to consultation, back off, revise, come back to council, amend, ad infinitum and continually undermine the service. We also wear people out with all the consultations.

Last November it was agreed that our strategy should be to consult on S1-S2 for the junior highs. Now it appears that S1-S3 is back in favour.

Those who argued against it say that the problem of prior learning in S3 has been resolved and so this option is viable after all. And it may be that many of those who opposed S1-S3 during the informal consultation last year believed that if they continued to object to any change councillors would eventually back off.

However, it must be clear now to all but the most die-hard opponents of change to the junior high school system that S1-S4 is no longer viable because of the way the curriculum is being provided: three years of broad general education followed by a senior phase of three years.

So if the case has not been made for S1-S2, then S1-S3 should again be considered for the isles and S1-S3 or closure considered for the mainland junior highs. Baltasound, with a pupil roll of 19 and some classes with only one pupil in them, should be considered again for closure.

We need to move on. I am optimistic that this council is not going to follow the behaviour of previous councils by taking fright and backing off from making tough decisions halfway through the term, because as well as representing the opinions of people in our wards, we are all signed up to the medium term financial plan and have to look at the bigger picture. The choices get tougher as the options narrow.

Meanwhile, the Shetland Learning Partnership project is getting under way. This exciting development will involve closer collaboration with the colleges and with employers. The plans are already well developed and by next year it should be possible to start offering the opportunity for pupils in their senior phase to take an HNC as well as their other qualifications.

If we stick to S1-S4 in the junior highs we would be unable to offer this to all pupils. It is planned to align timetabling across both high schools and the further education sector, and align the curriculum model at all secondary schools (S1-S3) so pupils will have similar opportunities regardless of where they receive their broad general education. If we can’t pursue this we are doing our young people a disservice and will be in danger of creating a two-tier system.

This whole argument is about quality of education. I will list below the things which will be cut if we don’t reconfigure the school estate, but the most important thing to remember is that we will have to continue cutting back on resources in all our schools, primary and secondary, if we don’t reconfigure the secondary school estate.

So far the primaries have taken a big hit: their resources and staffing have been squeezed until the pips squeak. Ask any teacher. If this carries on, at some point quality is going to suffer.

These are areas where savings have already been made:
* reduced expenditure on in-service training;
* reduced number of central staff;
* reduced money available for supply;
* reduced money for CPD [continuing professional development];
* end of knitting instruction;
* charges for instrumental instruction;
* increased charges for school meals;
* reduced operating costs in schools, particularly resources for learning materials and equipment;
* move to national staffing levels in primaries;
* reduced teaching staff in secondary;
* reduced catering and cleaning staff;
* reduced teacher input in nursery;
* more efficient use of resources for ASN;
* reduced opportunities for music instruction;
* reduced honorariums for parent council clerks;
* reduced school building maintenance;
* reduced youth services.

And these are the cuts that will have to be made in order to keep the secondary school estate as it is “and” meet the medium term financial plan:

For savings of £500,000 –
* further reductions in catering and cleaning;
* further savings from ASN;
* a review of janitors’ duties;
* the end of out-of-school clubs.

For savings of £1 million –
* further reduction in principal teachers, secondary staff, central staff,
* depute head teachers teaching half the week,
* composite class for Baltasound.

For savings of £1.5 million –
* further primary school closures in addition to those in the blueprint.

For savings of £2 million –
* end swimming instruction; end instrumental music instruction.

For savings of £2.5 million –
* remove all school operating budgets, e.g. no learning materials;
* reduce the subject choices for secondary education.

So the key points are these:
1.The Curriculum for Excellence cannot work in the current configuration of junior high schools.
2.The council cannot afford to sustain the current model of education.
3.By keeping all the schools open we could create a second rate education service.
4.Transitions during secondary should not happen, but if they have to they should take place before the senior phase begins.
5.We will serve no-one well by focusing on keeping schools open instead of concentrating on education.
6.Whalsay and Mid Yell should definitely stay open from S1-S3 for geographical reasons.

17 comments

  1. Iris Sandison

    ‘Shetland is different from other councils. It has continued with a junior high school system when most other councils changed their systems to mainly all-through schools 30 or 40 years ago.’

    Yes! And what a success story the Junior High Schools have been, for more than a generation. Some of the best exam results in the country; youngsters who don’t want to go on to higher education have been able to stay in the community, take their exams at the one school, with no transitions to a school of 1000 pupils and no tedious travel times; rural communities have benefitted from keeping their youngsters, instead of losing them aged 11 or 12; many who went through the Junior High system have now built their houses in rural Shetland and are sending their own families to the local Secondary Schools. It’s been a winner in so many ways. Compare that with what’s being proposed now. No contest.

    Reply
    • John Tulloch

      Quite so.

      Reply
  2. Iris Sandison

    Sorry… ‘benefited!’

    Reply
  3. Marina Thomason

    I am an employee of our family run business in Yell which employs 7 part-time and 6 full-time employees which includes a recent school-leaver under a Government Scheme. If I had known 18 years ago that our choice as parents regarding our children’s education was going to be removed from us and our children would be forced to leave home for 5 days of the week at the age of 13 years I would never have built a house here and settled in the isles. Councillors need to think about the impact on the rural communities and Shetland’s economy as a whole.
    The mass exodus of the Nort Isles won’t happen overnight but it will happen over time and families won’t want to move here. It’s interesting that the S3 model which was dismissed by the “expert” consultant “Professor” Don Ledingham who was employed by the SIC at the tune of £30,000 is now being suggested by the Chair of Education and Families as a possibility for some of the JHS’s. I for one am not in favour of it as it means that pupils who have not sat their first exams have to leave home at the age of 14/15 years old, move to the hostel get used to a new curriculum, teachers and school, then sit their pre-lims 6 months later. Too much for youngsters in too short a space of time.

    Reply
  4. Ali Inkster

    I work in the oil industry and let me just say that every single penny mentioned by Vaila could be recovered from BP Total and all the other companies operating in our waters. The budget so far for the well I am working on is £88 million and counting there are hundreds if not thousands of these wells in our waters yet a Total y pathetic £2 million is all our glorious leaders could squeeze out the industry.

    Reply
  5. John Tulloch

    Vaila,

    Rather than trying to argue that Shetland should have fewer schools to come into line with places like the Western Isles which has road causeways between almost all the islands and their mainland(s), SIC should be using that fact as an argument to the Scottish government to gain extra money.

    You’re (SIC) behaving like people in remote foreign parts who force their feet into shoes which are too small, ending up crippled.

    If you (SIC) want to close schools, especially, in the islands, you need to install fixed road links. Only then can you begin to speak credibly about reducing the number of isles schools.

    It goes against the grain with me to quote Ed Miliband however where schools are concerned, SIC is attempting to compete in a ‘race to the bottom’ which it can never win or, even, escape from last position.

    Can we please compare ‘apples with apples’.

    Reply
  6. Colin Stove

    I think Vaila Wishart’s personal view of the issues surrounding the Sandwick consultation is well thought out and concisely presented. If the statistics presented are correct and can be verified, some people may not like all her key points but I agree with her fundamental philosophy that, in this difficult day and age, you have to look at the bigger picture. I also agree with Iris Sandison who emphasises Vaila’s point that Shetland is different from other Councils.

    Reply
  7. Colin Stove

    The most important point is the need to make savings without compromising the quality of education………many people cannot focus on this very straightforward issue!

    Reply
    • John Tulloch

      I hear all the stuff about making savings and accept the SIC – in the absence of autonomy, ‘salami-sliced’ or otherwise – must try to manage their finances in a “sustainable” way between the meagre budget provided by the Scottish government and the SIC’s reserves and as things stand, cuts are necessary.

      It is a fundamental duty of the SIC, however, to preserve and develop the rural communities and the way they are carrying on with the schools risks sucking the life out of those communities by placing an unfair burden on those who will provide the backbone of populations in the areas affected for the foreseeable future.

      If those young people move to Lerwick – or Brae – because of the schooling arrangements the future of the areas affected will be seriously damaged.

      As MSP Mike Mackenzie has suggested, it has not yet been convincingly demonstrated that there will be any savings from this exercise and until it is, all talk of closures should be stopped in its tracks.

      Reply
    • Marina Thomason

      The SIC have shut 7 schools and claim to have saved 7 million pounds across Children’s Services with closures and cuts. Councillors are asking for a further 3 million pounds to be saved. It is doubtful that this will be achieved through current proposals. Therefore, even if these proposals go through there will still need to be cuts in education. The quality of education will decrease no matter what happens because with centralisation there will be larger class sizes. The pupils don’t go away with closure and with a reduction in secondary neither do the schools. They still exist. We spend much less percentage wise of our revenue grant on education than many other local authorities. Our net expenditure is almost identical to the Western Isles. They do have approx. 200 more pupils and their overall population is greater but we have less teachers.

      Reply
  8. Ali Inkster

    Why do we need to make savings? we are not in a recession, the UK was in a recession Scotland was in a recession. let them make the savings. If we are in a recession then maybe we need to reduce the subsidy that we send south. My suggestion is we reduce it by 100% and only pay them for the things we need from them.

    Reply
  9. David Spence

    I am just curious to know if there is any connection between the savings Councils are being forced to make throughout the whole of Britain, and this vile Tory Governments stance on giving to ‘ private schools ‘ over £400 million. As well as this, there are hundreds of millions of pounds of tax payers money going towards the construction of 150 new academies, which are going to be distributed within England, many of them focused on the south/east and east of the country.

    Is there a connection with Councils forced to make vast savings and tax payers money (in the 10′s millions) going towards the private sector of education in terms of subsidies and new building projects? A 100% YES……….as said, the vile Tory Party only looks after its own selfish interests at the cost to everybody else.

    We are all spoon-fed the bile of having to make all these cuts, but in reality, it is an agenda for the privatisation of education and everything else that is state run. By the way, the USA is 33rd in world in terms of its education, behind the UK………What a wonderful example in which this vile Tory Party admires and models itself off.

    Reply
    • Ali Inkster

      It is Edinburgh and da SIC dats closin da schools no da vile tories David, an McKenzie can electioneer aa he wants but da SSnp hid da chance ta stop da closures last time an did bugger all, sae i tink he may be fu o da proverbial manure. Maybe if da eens aa Edinburgh wid fund da schools da wye da tories is den aa da rural eens wid be gaen private an runnin tings fir dir sels. But I’ll no argue we de ower da choice o da fryin pan or da fire.

      Reply
  10. Duncan Burgess

    Ludicrous.
    Over 2 hours traveling a day!
    No real savings!
    Closing schools which are some of the best in Britain!
    DESTROYING communities!
    S1-4 WORKS!
    Saying it doesn’t work with out an ounce of proof means nothing. It does and with a small amount of work it can work very well. I know this for a fact.
    I am a pupil at Sandwick and this is seriously effecting pupils for the worst.
    Money may need to be saved but destroying Shetland’s communities, hurting many pupils and harming Shetland… REALLY?

    P.S Thank you to everyone who attended the march and to all the councillors who have the common sense to protect Shetland’s education rather than destroy it and also to Mike Mackenzie who has been very supportive.

    And let us hope that come Monday, the council make the right decision,
    Duncan Burgess
    S2 Pupil, Sandwick Junior High

    Reply
  11. ian tinkler

    By the way, the USA is 33rd in world in terms of its education, behind the UK. Strange how the USA is so much more powerful and more prosperous than the rest of us poor Europeans. Must be a vile Tory Party plot to make David look a bit silly. Those vile Tories, how could they do that? Perhaps David does that on his own, how vile for our David.

    Reply
  12. John Tulloch

    Vaila,

    You wrote above:

    “So the key points are these:
    1.The Curriculum for Excellence cannot work in the current configuration of junior high schools.
    2.The council cannot afford to sustain the current model of education.
    3.By keeping all the schools open we could create a second rate education service.
    4.Transitions during secondary should not happen, but if they have to they should take place before the senior phase begins.
    5.We will serve no-one well by focusing on keeping schools open instead of concentrating on education.
    6.Whalsay and Mid Yell should definitely stay open from S1-S3 for geographical reasons.”

    Is there anything here you would like to revise or withdraw, in light of the parent councils’ study, reported here:

    http://www.shetlandtimes.co.uk/2014/07/15/reaction-to-education-strategy-sounding-off/

    If not, what do you say in response to the authors of the article in question?

    Reply
  13. James Titcomb

    Appart from the bit about revisals, Vaila makes a good point:-
    “we have had endless rounds of consultations, proposals, revisals of proposals and debate.”

    But I would dissagree with her blaiming of the elected members for this:
    “The strategy report produced in November last year made clear the “danger of elected members continually seeking new reports and analyses, and the eventual undercutting of the service’s ability to perform its core function”.”

    Is it not up to the executive to understand that once the public and elected members have clearly rejected a proposal it is the executives mission to come up with alternative proposals? The continued dusting off of the same old rejected proposals is just not good enough.

    There have been clear failings of management at the education department with this weeks revelations of a serious breach of the data protection act (http://www.shetnews.co.uk/news/9407-northmavine-parents-lodge-privacy-complaint-against-sic), surely this combined with the inability of the department to change it’s thinking in the face of overwhelming rejection by the comunity and previous elected members points to the need for a change at the top of the education department.

    Reply

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