Either S1-S3 or closures, councillors agree

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The prospect of closures among rural secondary schools has re-emerged following the cooling-off on proposals to end secondary lessons after S2.

Councillors have agreed to consult on closing three isles secondaries – in Yell, Unst and Whalsay – as well as the Mainland junior highs in Sandwick and Aith.

But in a change to previous consultations feedback will also be sought at the same time on, alternatively, ending S4 classes at the schools, making them junior highs covering S1 to S3.

Today’s education and families committee agreed to open up the consultations from September. The decisions are likely to be ratified at tomorrow’s full council meeting.

Should that get the go-ahead the new round of consultations will begin in just over two months, when a proposal paper will be published on the future of Mid Yell Junior High School and the Whalsay School.

If everything runs to schedule a final decision on those schools are expected to be taken next February.

The meeting of the education and families committee in December next year is expected to reach a conclusion on Baltasound’s secondary department, after statutory consultation begins in August 2015.

October 2015 will see talks begin over the future of Aith and Sandwick junior highs. The future of those schools will not now be known until March 2016.

The recommendations come after the council agreed last month to go back to the drawing board on what to do with the school estate, after plans to maintain S1-S2 secondaries proved unpopular – despite a backing for S1-S2 last year by education consultant Professor Don Ledingham.

Members took little time to agree to the proposals this morning.

Children's services director Helen Budge.

Children’s services director Helen Budge.

After the meeting director of children’s services Helen Budge said the decision to consult on two outcomes was made following talks with Holyrood, and consideration of what other local authorities have done in similar circumstances.

She added that the authority needed to consider its options, given that the S1-S4 model was no longer thought viable by educational experts.

Mrs Budge said: “For S1 to S4, Education Scotland has said that’s no longer viable, so now what we’ve got to consider is ‘how are we going to deliver our secondary education in Shetland’?

“The other two options that we have is S1-S3 and closure. To do that, in a fair way, is to go out and say, ‘okay community, here’s the options that we have in the context of what we’ve learned before from you … here’s all the evidence on what it would look like. What are your views on it’?”

Education and families committee chairwoman Vaila Wishart said looking at two options for all the schools in question would be “a fairer way to do it”.

“If they [communities] don’t want S1-S2, then we look at S1-S3 in detail,” Ms Wishart said.

Education chiefs insist the best solution, in an ideal world, is an S1-S6 model. However, the isles geography and population spread makes that an unrealistic prospect.

Vice-chairman George Smith said the high standard of education needed to be maintained.

“What I believe we have to try to demonstrate is that, if we are going to have S1-S3 schools, that we are not compromising the pupils who go to those schools in an educational way. Surely we wouldn’t want to do that,” Mr Smith said.

“Therefore, we have to be able to find … a comparable level of education in an S1-S3 school as they would achieve if they were in an S1-S6 school. Then it comes down to a question of ‘can we resource it’?”

A potential headache facing councillors is a separate report highlighting the cost per pupil in the isles compared with those in Orkney and the Western Isles.

Gross expenditure figures for 2012/13 show the cost per pupil in Shetland to be £13,657, compared with £9,780 in Orkney and £9,759 in Eilean Siar.

Despite the Western  Isles having the largest land mass, and Orkney the biggest number of populated islands, both island groups have five schools teaching secondary education compared with seven in Shetland (excluding Skerries).

The meeting heard the most inefficient school across the three island areas was Baltasound. Its total budget per pupil was listed as £26,449 – compared with £15,775 in Orkney’s similarly-sized Stronsay school. Baltasound’s tally of teachers has also been put at at 8.15, more than double Stronsay’s 3.78.

The council is faced with a delicate balance as it struggles to reduce the ratio between pupils and teachers, while simultaneously trying to maintain S1-S3 schools and ensure the same educational benefits can be maintained as in S1-S6 schools.

Education and families committee vice-chairman George Smith.

Education and families committee vice-chairman George Smith.

Mr Smith said the authority should not shy away from looking at efficiencies.

He said: “But you always have to look at the other side of the coin, which is ‘what’s the effect of making those efficiencies’?

“If that is detrimental in terms of the educational value of what you are trying to deliver you have to think, ‘is that efficiency worth taking’?

“We should at least understand what the efficiencies might be, and then you can make a valued judgment as to whether you think you should take them or not.”

About Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor is a reporter at The Shetland Times

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  1. Stuart Hannay

    Mrs Budge said: “For S1 to S4, Education Scotland has said that’s no longer viable, so now what we’ve got to consider is ‘how are we going to deliver our secondary education in Shetland’?

    My understanding is that it is less clear cut than this, in June this year Education Scotland have also said, about our situation, that:

    “Each school and its education authority are expected to work together with parents and learners to develop and deliver a curriculum model that is best suited to their learner’s circumstances and needs, making use of the flexibility Cfe provides….Cfe provides the policy framework to deliver education and it is a matter for the local authority to balance with other priorities within communities.”

    I do not believe, like some, that the S1-S3 model has been proposed as a cynical attempt to merely postpone school closures but I do struggle to see its educational merits and that closures might well be the inevitable consequence of it.

  2. Hazel Spence

    MORE consultations, MORE papers to be drawn up. This has to be totally illegal somewhere wasting more money and keeping the middle management in too well paid jobs, come on Council please get a grip. Stop rewind and start again with an ounce of common sense and empathy for rural communities who contribute hugely to the Shetland economy!

    Yours sincerely a distressed, frustrated mum.

  3. Murray Brown

    Compulsory boarding school,let’s get rid of ferries and try and sell off outer isles for even more facilities for da. Toon.Knighthood for Helen Budge

  4. Simon Fraser

    Blah Blah Blah… Both Smith and Budge, but especially Smith, are showing themselves to be the atypical SIC councilor telling us now how things should be done but not having the wit or foresight to do it in the first place. I would be embarrassed to be quoted saying what they have given the mess they all have made of things.

    It has been mentioned before perhaps if we cut a few councilors and expense in Lerwick we can have what we want. At least there would be less drivel to listen to.

  5. John Tulloch

    It has also been mentioned before that country people are going to have to fight to save their schools. This may involve writing your name on a document that criticises the council which other people can read and see you’ve signed – I know, “Shock!” “Horror!” How ‘un-Shetland’ would that be?

    I have no idea how many have signed the “No confidence in SIC petition in local shops, however, precious few have signed online at:


    If you live in the country and want to save your schools and other local facilities, you need to sign.

    Otherwise, they’ll think you don’t really care.

  6. Marina Thomason

    This is a direct quote from Education Scotland when I asked for clarity on what had been said in the Sandwick consultation report;
    ” The curriculum provides a non-prescriptive, permissive policy framework to deliver education. Each school and it’s education authority are expected to work together with parents and learners to develop and deliver a curriculum model that is best suited to their learner’s circumstance and needs, making use of the flexibility CfE provides”.

    It is Helen Budge who is stating categorically that an S4 model is no longer viable, along with some misinformed councillors. Just because Education Scotland said an S4 model was not in the best interests of Sandwick pupils does not mean that an S4 model would not be in the best interests of pupils at another JHS in Shetland. It is wrong to completely dismiss an S4 model as not being an option. CfE should never be used as an excuse to close a school or reduce education provision within a school.

  7. Kari Hamilton

    There has been a perception that Education Scotland were in favour of a transition at the end of s3 and that this is the only feasible time. This is not the case.

    Education Scotland believe that the curriculum for excellence can be delivered irrespective of setting or school structure, “The curriculum provides a non-prescriptive, permissive policy framework which enables local circumstances and choices to be met in a way that best suits the learner’s needs, irrespective of the structure of the school system.”

    The SIC must have a more flexible approach to this given our unique geography.

  8. John Tulloch

    “The meeting heard the most inefficient school across the three island areas was Baltasound. Its total budget per pupil was listed as £26,449 – compared with £15,775 in Orkney’s similarly-sized Stronsay school. Baltasound’s tally of teachers has also been put at at 8.15, more than double Stronsay’s 3.78.”

    Stronsay Unst
    Population. 370 632
    Pupils 52 97

    Similarly-sized? I wouldn’t say that.

    Too many ‘cherry-picked’ statistics in the SIC’s argument from the start.

    Will SIC publish the full report on the comparison of Shetland schools costs versus those of Orkney?

    • Robert Duncan

      You’re being rather selective yourself, Mr Tulloch. The SECONDARY rolls at Stronsay and Baltasound are 25 and 24 respectively.

      Remarkably similar, for this school year at the least, and yet Stronsay has fewer than half the FTE teachers. I don’t see how it can be questioned that Baltasound, at the very least, needs a progressive reduction in teaching staff numbers. If Skerries had remained open for next year it’s pupil to teacher ratio, by virtue of having three pupils to the one head teacher, would have been greater than that of Baltasound. It is madness and cannot continue.

      • Johan Adamson

        Is that not because our education service have stopped teachers teaching multiple subjects recently? How do Stronsay manage to teach the curriculum with less teachers? Figure that one out and you have your answer surely it is not to shut the school

      • John Tulloch

        Ok, Robert.

        You seem to have access to more detailed figures than I and I’m happy to take the numbers you’ve put up as accurate.

        Then, if my overall pupil numbers are about right, that means that Stronsay and Baltasound primaries have 27 and 73 pupils, respectively, which, in turn, means that over two and a half times as many children attend Baltasound primary as currently attend Stronsay primary.

        Those kids and their parents will be hoping they will be able to attend the Baltasound secondary section in due course.

        When that much larger number joins the secondary roll, presumably, the cost per pupil should then fall?

      • Robert Duncan

        I just have the figures from the report itself, John. It has been freely available through the Councils website for a few weeks – any documents presented to council committee must be made publicly available before they are discussed.

        I do not know the exact roll for the primary at Baltasound, but I’d be very surprised if it is as high as 70. Are you sure that is not a combined roll for the whole school? A primary roll of around 50, or around 7 per year group, would be in line with the secondary roll, which it has been reported is expected to remain fairly steady.

        Ms Adamson, I do not disagree with you. I would not advocate full closure of Baltasound JHS. If Baltasound’s teaching numbers were reduced by 5 FTEs (in line with Stronsay) that would be a saving of almost £200k. That would make it relatively efficient in comparison to children travelling and staying in the hostel. However, I do not see any way it can continue as it currently is.

        As an aside, the General Teaching Council of Scotland are likely the opponents of teachers teaching multiple subjects. I’m sure local education officials would love to have that flexibility.

      • Johan Adamson

        There does seem to be something wrong with the split of the costs between primary and secondary. So much so that it makes the costs of the secondary look too high and also the costs in a stand alone primary look too high against a primary in a junior high. My bairns moved Aith to Tingwall and the costs were just so different you could not compare the two. Gerry Mandering?

      • John Tulloch


        Here’s my reference, perhaps, you or someone else who knows will enlighten us as to whether the number is accurate and if not, what the total number of pupils attending Baltasound actually is?

        Unst also has a considerably larger population than Stronsay (632 vs 370) so, other things being equal, it would be reasonable to expect to have more kids in the school?


        As you’ve questioned the figure, it’s important we bottom that out before going any further.

      • Robert Duncan

        Education Scotland report it was 41 in 2012:


        (although they also have a decreased FTE teachers figure)

      • John Tulloch

        Ok, Robert, I’ll accept your figure as more likely to be correct and withdraw my original comment with an apology for the error in my reference, which I quoted in good faith.

        So much for “The Good Schools Guide”.

        Now that we agree that Stronsay and Baltasound Schools are “similarly-sized”, it raises another, related, question.

        Assuming my population figures (i.e. Unst 632, Stronsay 370) are accurate, it seems odd that Unst, with 71percent more people than Stronsay, has the same number of children attending school?

        Why would you say that might be the case?

      • Robert Duncan

        We’re getting into very nitty gritty socio economic stuff now and any comments will be very generalistic, but it seems the likely explanation is the simplest: that the population of Unst is relatively older than that of Stronsay.

        That is difficult to verify, as the Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics data zone for Stronsay ties in Sanday and North Ronaldsay. However, Unst certainly has a population that is notably older than the Shetland average (almost a quarter are of retirement age).

        I know defenders of the school will say that indicates it is an area at risk of depopulation if young families aren’t attracted to the school. That is why I would never advocate full closure of the secondary department. That does not mean the school in its current form is viable or even desirable.

    • John Tulloch

      Thanks, Robert. I strongly suspect you’re right about the age profile of Unst residents being the cause of the relatively low number of schoolkids there.

      My concern is that the SIC has alighted on Unst because of the perceived “inefficiency” of Balty JHS which (high cost per head) is itself due to the very thing that protesters against closure wish to avoid – destruction of their communities by depopulation. If there were more young people living there with families there would be more children at the school and the cost per head would drop.

      It appears Unst is already well down the depopulation road without the SIC closing schools and that what is needed there is a serious project to improve the attractiveness of Unst as a place for young families to live.

      That’s why I keep banging on about road tunnel links which would enable Unst folk to comfortably drive to work on the Mainland, Sullom Voe being an obvious employer. The north isles would become much more accessible to all, to tourist and business person alike.

      Installing fixed road links will breathe life into the isles while recouping vast tranches of money wasted on vehicle ferries. The population will expand and you won’t feel a need to cut back the school, other than to indulge a political “flavour of the month”.

      Look at Burra, Trondra and Muckle Roe, have you ever heard of anyone from there wanting to demolish the bridges and go back to depending on ferries?

      • Robert Duncan

        I completely agree on the fixed links. They should have been built a long time ago, but even now it seems likely that they would soon pay themselves off against the ever increasing costs of ferries.

        I still think there are serious inefficiencies at Baltasound JHS that need to be addressed and that it would take a drastic upturn in the school roll for that to change.

        (I also think there would be educational advantages for Unst pupils in having their Senior Phase delivered in Lerwick, staying in the hostel and able to access either of the two colleges daily, although you could equally argue they should have that option regardless)

      • Johan Adamson

        Its not only Unst which needs a serious project to stop depopulation. We need more infrastructure not less; like more houses for salmon farm workers and others who work in the rural community, and we need to support all of rural Shetland, not take things away. Really though the SIC needs to talk seriously with local communities to see what it is they need, not foist on them these things that either the SIC has to save money with, or that they think is needed. True decentralisation is to listen to the communities, not decide in Lerwick what to destroy.

  9. Stuart Hannay

    “The meeting heard the most inefficient school across the three island areas was Baltasound”

    Interesting use of the word ‘ineffiicent’ – something of an insult to the staff of Baltasound? It may cost more to run but that’s because of where it is. The Education Dept is apparently more ineffiicent than some in other authorities but I’ve not heard it described as such.

    • Robert Duncan

      You’ve never heard Shetland’s Education Department described as inefficient? Really? I find that hard to believe.

  10. Gary Robinson

    The report comparing secondary schools across Scotland’s three islands’ councils can be found here: http://www.shetland.gov.uk/coins/viewSelectedDocument.asp?c=e%97%9Dd%8Ei%80%8C

  11. Jane Haswell

    In the above article Mrs Budge is quoted as saying “For S1 to S4, Education Scotland has said that’s no longer viable……”
    On reading the Sandwick response I see no such statement . If Mrs Budge has written evidence from Education Scotland that supports this claim, then I and many others would like to see it .

    • Robert Duncan

      The Education Scotland report is posted online as an appendix to the Consultation Report. Section 4 of that appendix states, “The council has made a clear case that … the current arrangement of providing education for the S1 to S4 stages at Sandwick JHS is neither viable nor in the best interests of children and young people.”

      • Johan Adamson

        So Education Scotland didnt say it, the SIC did?

        What is this clear case they made?

      • Robert Duncan

        The quoted section is fairly explicit agreement. The “clear case” is detailed throughout the Consultation Report.

  12. Gary Robinson

    The complete Education Scotland response to the Sandwick JHS proposal is on the SIC website and can be found here; http://www.shetland.gov.uk/education/documents/AppendixB-EducationScotland.pdf


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