New proposal for rural education

Sandwick JHS could now stay open as an S1-S3 school. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Sandwick JHS could now stay open as an S1-S3 school. Photo: Dave Donaldson

The option of retaining S1 to S3 lessons at all the isles’ junior high schools is back on the table after a meeting of the education and families committee this morning.

Originally the meeting had been asked to consider the discontinuation of S3 and S4 education at Sandwick Junior High School with effect from July 2016. The affected pupils would then move to the Anderson High School, assuming it was built in time.

But now the option of S1 to S3 education, or the alternative of closure of all junior high schools, will go out to public consultation.

This was proposed by committee chairwoman Vaila Wishart, and unanimously backed by the members. They, and education chiefs, cannot have been unaware of the strength of public feeling about retaining rural education, as shown in the weekend’s march through Lerwick.

Head of the children and families service Helen Budge said at the meeting that a statutory consultation about the future of Sandwick had taken place between February and March, gaining 316 responses. Of these, 78 per cent had been in favour of retaining the S1 to S4 model.

Concerns cited about the S1 to S2 proposal included travelling distance and time, quality of education, class sizes, community and family life, school capacity, staffing implications, centralisation, financial implications and the fact that it was an untested model of provision.

Mrs Budge said Education Scotland had made the point that to meet pupils’ needs: “The current arrangement of S1 to S4 is neither viable nor in the best interests of children.”

She added: “I remain convinced that S1 to S6 offers the best education.”

The model of S1 to S4 is no longer the “best fit” with the new Curriculum for Excellence, she said, and a transition to a different school in the middle of senior school was “not wise”.

However, she recognised that Shetland’s geography meant there would always be a need for some transitions. She was therefore, “with reluctance”, recommending the S1 to S2 option, as a transition would be better at the end of S2 than S4.

Ms Budge explained the Curriculum for Excellence started with a broad general education in S1, which pupils would have narrowed down by S3. By the end of that year, they would have chosen their subjects for S4 to S6. The way forward was for more “flexible learning”, she said, with pupils possibly studying HNCs at college while still pupils at school.

Although the S1 to S2 option was up for consideration, Ms Wishart rejected it and moved the S1 to S3 model.

Vaila Wishart – "a critical time for education"

Vaila Wishart – ” arguments for S1 to S2 option do not stack up”

She said: “I’ve had numerous arguments with teachers about S1 to S2 … the arguments for S1 to S2 don’t stack up in my opinion.” She added that she had to take Education Scotland’s verdict into account, that S1 to S4 was neither viable, nor best for pupils.

This was greeted warmly by members, with Davie Sandison welcoming the fact that “clarity” was emerging. However he asked whether the S1 to S3 proposal could be achieved within the constraints of the council’s medium term financial plan.

Gary Robinson said the council still has to look at further efficiencies.

The proposal will now go to the full council, which meets this afternoon,and financial costings will be presented next month.

About Rosalind Griffiths

I am a Shetland Times reporter covering news, including health stories, and features. I have been in Shetland for more than 30 years.

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10 comments

  1. Johan Adamson

    Not sure I understand this S1 – S3 thing. The school leaving age is still 16. So does that mean that for anyone absolutely and resolutely wanting to leave school at 16, they will do only one year senior phase, and probably in Lerwick? And if there are still exams at 16, does that mean only one year in Lerwick before these are sit? And surely it means college for all above S3 so that they can either do college courses or school or a mixture, and that they can all use the hostel, if required?

    But regardless of this, this seems positive and like someone is listening, so it must be a step forward.

    Reply
    • John Tulloch

      They’re only listening because the country folk have stood firm and said “Enough! Up with this we shall not put.”

      I’m reminded of when the English cavalry were repulsed in disarray on the second day of Bannockburn and the cry went up “They fail!” prompting all the cooks and other logistics folk to pile in with anything they could lay their hands on. The well-known of the mighty English army rout ensued in short order.

      “They fail!”

      And country folk must now press home their hard won advantage – no more ‘salami’ compromises, rout them, once and for all!

      Reply
    • Robert Duncan

      Not sure about a step forward, we are more or less back to what our own education officials were recommending this last time last year, when councillors asked them to appoint an external advisor, Prof Ledingham, to essentially lead us astray with this S1 to S2 stuff (helped along the way by councillors ignoring the advice pertaining to Sandwick directly).

      Still no closer to a decision being made, but hopefully the paddling in circles hoping the tide will change will end next time something goes before them.

      Reply
      • John Tulloch

        Robert, you say:

        “Not sure about a step forward, we are more or less back to what our own education officials were recommending this last time last year, when councillors asked them to appoint an external advisor, Prof Ledingham, to essentially lead us astray with this S1 to S2 stuff (helped along the way by councillors ignoring the advice pertaining to Sandwick directly).”

        You seem to have an exceptionally good memory of events in this sphere, do you happen to also recall exactly which councillors asked officials to appoint the “hired gun”, Professor Ledingham, to face down opponents of the rural school closures?

        There was even more money down the drain on – to euphemise – sophistry.

        If we’re back to what council officials were recommending a year ago, all the more reason for country folk to press home their hard-won advantage:

        “THEY FAIL!”

        Let everyone in the country sign Ali’s petition and rout them, once and for all!

      • Johan Adamson

        Delay is positive until we really see what is happening with the C of E, and the new school. But it can be bad for parents and students who, in the meantime, face a lot of uncertainty.

    • Marina Thomason

      I’m not convinced that this is a step forward. Perhaps more a step side-ways. Don Ledingham dismissed the S3 model because he felt that a transition at this time was “almost too late”, which is the exact words that he used at a meeting I was at. Although secondary education is being sold to us as two distinct phases, broad general S1-S3 and senior phase S4-S6, I believe that he knew that in reality this is not going to happen. Pupils are still choosing their subjects towards the end of S2 and they are starting work towards National 5 qualification half-way through S3. They need this time to get through the work. Pupils joining AHS pupils at the end of S3 will be disadvantaged and will only have a matter of months before they have to sit their pre-lims in November.
      I agree that this whole argument about working with the Shetland College being new and “exciting” is a red herring because pupils already access courses from S3 from all over Shetland. My daughter is currently doing a day-release course once a fortnight from Yell. It’s not easy but it’s not impossible and if distance is a problem why are Children’s Services not offering pupils beds in the hostel?

      Reply
      • John Tulloch

        There’s danger here, the option to close all five JHSs is back on the table.

        This isn’t “Phew, thank goodness, at least, they’re keeping the schools open as S1-S3″, it’s a tactical retreat which will enable the school closure brigade to re-group and have another go at full closure.

        The closure forces’ ranks have broken and country folk now need to emulate the cooks, etc, at Bannock burn and pile in to support CURE in droves.

        It’s easy. If you want to save your schools, you need to keep the pressure on SIC by signing Ali Inkster’s petition in your local shop or online, at:

        http://www.change.org/petitions/shetland-islands-council-resign

        Don’t let them off the hook, – “THEY FAIL!” – so ‘go for the jugular’!

      • Marina Thomason

        Your right that the option for closure is back but they can’t close all 5 secondary departments completely because the new AHS is too small and they will have to build a hostel with twice as many beds as is currently being planned.

      • Johan Adamson

        So the national 5 is the leaving certificate at 16? I don’t then understand why this is so different from sitting a batch of O grades or standard grades at 16 and then why our junior highs are not best placed to do this. They sound ideal as their teachers are more used to teach more than one subject at a time (although I think recently this practice seems to have stopped). Certainly, where I was at a junior high our headmaster also taught French and RE; our Maths teacher also taught Geography. Not sure they would now be deemed to be suitably qualified but speaking as someone who went on to do further and higher education and a professional qualification, they couldn’t have done that badly. Why dont we look to other countries who already have a leaving certificate to see how they do it.

        I think they think there is no kultcha in the communities da’ling! You have to visit Lerwick for that, and specifically Mareel, but just as in Brave New World, its maybe the noble savages who are reading the Shakespeare in the wilderness.

  2. Ali Inkster

    Yet another cop out and more reports, and we will be back here again in a few months then next year and so on. Our rebate is being cut so savings will have to be made and as most of the councillors are closer to retirement than school age you know where their priorities will lie.
    There are some in the council who are genuinely trying to do the right thing but I’m afraid in this instance we will have to throw out the wheat with the chaff. the only consolation is that the wheat when thrown on fertile ground will grow, so lets give them the room they need to flourish.

    https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/shetland-islands-council-resign

    Reply

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