Reaction to education strategy (Sounding Off)

A joint reaction has been written by parent council representatives following an amended strategy for secondary education adopted by Shetland Islands Council last week. Here they put forward their views.

Wednesday 2nd July 2014 was a day which we suspect will be remembered in Shetland for a long time.

The day saw the adoption of a (yet again) amended strategy for secondary education in Shetland. For anyone concerned about schooling in our islands, this strategy should be deeply worrying.

Here we concentrate on three aspects of the amended strategy:
•The over-inflated cost per pupil in Shetland;
• The enormous implications for the Anderson High School as a result of completely closing all the junior highs;
• The eradication of junior highs as we know them.
The “almost £4,000 per secondary pupil more expensive than in Western Isles or Orkney” was largely a myth.

A study has been done by the council comparing Shetland secondary education costs to those in Orkney and Western Isles.

The reason for the study was to explain the difference between the Shetland costs per pupil (said to be £13,700) and the Orkney and Western Isles figures (£9,800 each).

The study found that secondary education in Shetland actually costs about £3,600 less than the oft-quoted figure of £13,700 per secondary pupil.

The difference is for two reasons:
• The comparisons were not true like-for-like comparisons;
• Recent savings made to secondary education in Shetland had not been included.

Figures demonstrate that per pupil spending for secondary education in Shetland is in fact around 26 per cent lower than the oft-quoted (but incorrect) £13,700 figure.

Therefore the total budget for secondary education in Shetland is also 26 per cent lower, when we do a like-for-like comparison and include recent savings.

We know of course that the “like-for-like adjustments” are real money that was really spent, but the whole point is that the money didn’t belong in the secondary school budget.

The amended strategy, however, is based on the old figures and in no way acknowledges that a budget which is 26 per cent smaller should be expected to produce lower savings.

Indeed the SIC went on to immediately vote for an even more drastic proposal – when the figure was said to be £13,700 per pupil, the most drastic proposal was to halve the size of the junior high school estate.

Now that the figure is shown to be around £10,000 the most drastic proposal is to completely close all junior highs. This means that the secondary education “pie” has become smaller, but the slice to be taken out has become bigger.

This fact was not debated for even five minutes in the council chamber on 2nd July.

Who benefits from a bigger, cheaper Anderson High School? The new AHS, with all junior high schools closed (2017) – 1,175 pupils (up from 895 today). Only £434,000 added to the budget, or about £1,550 per additional pupil.

If all the junior high schools close, the AHS would have 30 per cent more pupils than it does today, but only about 10 per cent more budget.

This is because when a junior high shuts, a lot of money is spent on transport and (sometimes) halls of residence and then most of the rest of the money disappears as savings.

All of the closed schools’ pupils move to the new school, but only a tiny fraction of the budget does.

It is striking that the junior high budgets are analysed in forensic detail, but the implications of the new strategy for the AHS are not spelt out at all. Given that all of us are parents of future AHS pupils, this worries us enormously.

The proud tradition of S1-4 junior highs is killed off without discussion.

The vote on 2nd July also ended the junior highs as we now know them, but astonishingly this was not debated at all in the chamber.

Pupils will no longer be able to stay at their junior high until the school leaving age and gain that first all-important qualification at the end of S4.

For the first time ever, pupils will have no choice but to go to Lerwick to complete their education.

The council argues that this change is at the behest of Education Scotland. Continually we hear that Education Scotland no longer believes that S1-4 is viable.

In our correspondence with Education Scotland stated as recently as June, it stated: “Junior high schools such as those in Shetland can be a feature in remote, rural communities … The Curriculum [for Excellence] 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 school system.”

In other words the council must take into account Shetland’s unique geography and has a great deal of flexibility about how to implement the new curriculum.

There is nothing in the curriculum for excellence which dictates that S4 has to be abolished.

So where are we now? The amended secondary education strategy contemplates closing all the junior high schools. But on closer scrutiny a strange fact emerges – by 2018 there won’t actually be room for all the bairns from the junior highs and the AHS would be over-capacity.

The situation for the halls of residence is even more drastic – consultations about closing Mid-Yell and Whalsay start next month, but there is insufficient capacity in the new halls to accommodate the pupils.

So maybe there is no intention after all to close all the junior highs. Why then are we spending all this time and emotion and money on these closure proceedings?

The answer lies in the excessive cuts which are being made to secondary education. The comparison paper with Orkney and Western Isles starts out by comparing overall Council spending in Shetland with other local authorities.

Shetland spends 60 per cent more per person than Orkney and 22 per cent more than Western Isles. Obviously this can’t continue. But it certainly isn’t secondary education which causes these vast discrepancies because, as we have seen, costs per secondary pupil are broadly comparable with Orkney and Western Isles.

We’ve seen spending per pupil fall from the stated £13,700 to £10,100 and now there are plans to further reduce it to £8,900.
Secondary education is taking a disproportionate hit. Why?

Secondary education has lost its way in Shetland. And in the meantime, next month we start the long and gruelling process of formal consultations about closures and asking hundreds (yes hundreds) of bairns what they feel about either leaving home at the age of 11 or 12, or embarking on long journeys to school every weekday.

We know that some excellent work is being done in the town hall to defend secondary education and explore a range of alternatives. We appreciate the exhausting work involved and the commissioning of the comparison with the other island authorities, but the facts highlighted must be discussed.

It must be understood that ultimately all any parent wants is the best for their child, for them to be nurtured in a loving environment and educated to the highest standard.

We want to preserve our heritage and communities and the only way that will happen is through the education of our children, not the removal of choice.

Kari Hamilton
(chairwoman, Whalsay Parent Council)
John Irvine (chairman, Mid Yell Parent Council)
Jeremy Sansom (chairman, Aith Parent Council)
Catriona Waddington
(chairwoman, Baltasound Parent Council)
The chairman of Sandwick Parent Council was on holiday.

15 comments

  1. Ali Inkster

    And yet some folk still have confidence in this council, and don’t want to hold them to account. For those that do you could sign this. https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/shetland-islands-council-resign
    The simple fact is nothing will change in the SIC until we force that change on them. Same with the governments they will carry on drip feeding us the crumbs from our own table till the banquet is finished. then we will get less than crumbs unless we put in place people with the wit and ability to achieve that.

    Reply
  2. John Tulloch

    If the analysis provided above is accurate, the SIC Education Department and Education Committee appear, either, incompetent to manage this type of change or, alternatively, to be making a perverse attempt to push through a half-baked, politically-inspired, “flavour of the month” initiative, on the false premise that Education Scotland have demanded it, when they haven’t.

    Despite the cacophony of protest, intelligent protest, the full council is presiding blithely over a snow-balling fiasco.

    None of this inspires confidence;quite the reverse. Unless the SIC can provide a prompt, convincing rebuttal of the parent councils’ analysis, it might reasonably be expected that Audit Scotland will “come-a-knocking” at the Toon Hall.

    Reply
  3. John Tulloch

    Given the deafening silence from SIC councillors and officials about the claims made in the above article, perhaps, Robert Duncan, hitherto an doughty defender of the council’s education reforms, will give us the benefit of his take on this article, in particular, does he accept the claims made regarding the misrepresentation of the financial position and if so, where does this leave the SIC’s grand plan to cut the junior highs?

    Come on, Robert, let’s hear it.

    Reply
  4. Robert Duncan

    Since you ask, John:

    I find this a somewhat disingenuous representation of the report presented, which made clear throughout that the comparison was of 2012/13 figures and that further savings had since been made. It would not be possible to accurately compare more recent figures. The Shetland savings are acknowledged throughout but are not just lopped off, because given the national picture in education (and indeed all areas of local authority spending) it would be maive in the extreme to think that the Western Isles and Orkney have not made their own savings in this time.

    Defenders of junior high schools have been calling for a like for like comparison for quite some time. It has finally been offered (the reconciled c. £11,000 to £9,800) and now they are trumpeting a figure that skews it again in shetlands favour.

    Of course, none of this even acknowledges that some of the savings made so far have been far less desirable than altering a bloated school estate. Do we really want our children, some as young as four, walking up to two miles (three for older pupils) to their school (or bus pick up)? Those are the sort of changes being made to reach savings targets without closing secondary schools.

    Reply
    • John Tulloch

      Welcome back, Robert, I hope you had an enjoyable weekend.

      Parents’ article “disingenuous”?

      But you seem to be confirming that the figures supplied by education committee chair Vaila Wishart in her “Sounding Off” piece,

      http://www.shetlandtimes.co.uk/2014/06/06/sounding-off-by-vaila-wishart

      written a mere six weeks ago, are well wide of the mark i.e. Wishart’s cost per Shetland pupil of “nearly £14,000″ is vastly inflated compared to your version of “£11,000 to £9,800 per pupil”?

      Is this the best we can expect from SIC policy makers?

      You effectively admit that senior SIC councillors and officials have put rural parents “through the mill” using a gross misrepresentation of the cost figures and yet you call the parents’ eminently more accurate figure – £10,100 per pupil, which falls within your own range, “disingenuous”?

      Do you not think some serious questions need to be asked – and answered?

      Reply
      • Robert Duncan

        Councillor Wisharts piece was written before the “reconciliation” paper released by James Gray’s Finance team (not the education department). She was writing based on the figures available. The picture certainly looks better now than previously, however thereare still serious question marks about our school estate if we look at comparable schools (e.g. the Baltasound and Stronsay example we discussed recently).

      • Johan Adamson

        I wasn’t going to sign the petition as above, wanting to give our council a chance. But now I think I will, given that this has all been such nonsense, and it has been years of upset for everyone. And the bairns cant walk to school either, another nonsense project by the education dept. All we need are the safety audits to tell us we dont have pavements and Tingwall bairns for one cant cross the main A road north. Such a waste of everyones time.

      • John Tulloch

        Robert, Robert!

        Are you saying our senior education officials (and councillors) were unaware of the year their “nearly £14,000 per pupil” figure applied to and/or that they were unaware they had achieved per pupil savings of over £4,000pa since then?

        They are accountable for managing their own budgets, are they not?

        And for finding and implementing efficiency improvements while reporting progress to the education committee, are they not?

        So why did they need the Finance Dept to tell them they had succeeded in cutting education costs?

        What then are we paying our education officials for?

        Who supplied Vaila Wishart with the figures she quoted in her “Sounding Off” piece?

        I ask again, is this the best we may expect from SIC policy makers?

      • Robert Duncan

        They control their own budgets, they do not control the budgets of Orkney Islands Council or Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. The initial figure was based on real costs of providing education in Shetland, it just included costs that are attributed to other departments in other authorities.

        Savings have been made but still not to the extent required or possible. Again, look at the ridiculous number of FTE teachers at Baltasound.

      • John Tulloch

        Johan,

        I didn’t sign the “No confidence in SIC” petition lightly.

        If Shetlanders want to save the rural schools and/or halt Viking Energy, they MUST show the council they are serious about it by signing the petition, online at

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

        or in their local shops.

        Country people, especially, must be prepared to fight for their schools and their environment. You cannot depend on a Lerwick-dominated council to do that for you.

        People need to remember that, although there may not be many signatures in their local shop petition, if there are, even, five or ten in every shop, plus the online signatures, that is coming to be a lot of signatures from Sumburgh to Haroldswick, so they won’t be “sticking their necks out”.

      • John Tulloch

        Robert,

        Alleged overpopulation of FTE teachers at Baltasound is a diversion. If such a problem exists, tackle it intelligently and humanely, it isn’t a reason to close the school.

        No matter how many lame excuses you trot out, whichever way you look at it, country people have been turned inside out and “put through the mill”, repeatedly, on the basis of a false prospectus – not good!

        The two main planks of the SIC’s case for closure, namely, financial pressure and the claim that Education Scotland require the closure of junior high schools to comply with Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), have been smashed to pieces.

        The school closure programme must be halted immediately and a full, open investigation carried out, preferably, under the auspices of Audit Scotland, to establish how such an embarrassing blunder could have been made – and used – by senior SIC policy makers.

        I ask again, is this the best we may expect?

  5. Jack Brunton

    So, when Mr. Tulloch and his like minded chums have ousted the current Council via their online petition, are we to anticipate the self same Mr. Tulloch (Mr. Thomson of CURE?) standing in the next Council? There will still be a significant financial problem for the next Council to address.

    So come on John (et al), instead of standing on the edge criticising officers and Councillors, let’s hear your policy decisions.
    With a time expired model of secondary education provision and no income for the free wind energy. Where can the millions of pounds shortfall be found?
    Slash ferry provision?
    Close a care centre? (Or two.)
    Slash social care support for vulnerable pensioners?

    Let’s hear you solutions then.

    If it were that easy I’m sure we wouldn’t be in our current pickle.

    Reply
    • Ali Inkster

      Easy to answer that one we keep our resources to pay for the things we need and give westminster or Edinburgh the crumbs from our table.

      Reply
    • Gordon Thomson

      Re Jack Brunton’s comment. As secretary of CURE, I should point out that we are not calling for SIC councillors to resign. We simply want the SIC to see the support that there is for rural schools (Primary and Secondary), that savings have already been made, some further savings can be made within education and that transporting and hostelling bairns elsewhere is going to be more expensive and more unsettling.

      Reply
      • Ali Inkster

        You are asking the blind to see the light Gordon it’s not going to happen. The only thing that will make them sit up and take notice is when you threaten to remove them from office.

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