20th September 2018
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Big challenges await next council warns outgoing education chairwoman

Outgoing councillor Vaila Wishart has highlighted major challenges for the next council as it prepares to deliver services for young people, in her closing statement as chairwoman of education and families.

But she insists the current authority has achieved much – despite having an “ever reducing pot of money” at its disposal.

Vaila Wishart – "a critical time for education"

Vaila Wishart – “Education was not the first priority for our young folk among some parents and communities”.

Ms Wishart, who is standing down at the May elections as a Shetland Central member, voiced disappointment that education was “not the first priority” among some parents and communities.

Early in its term, this council was characterised by consultations on school closure proposals amid arguments that a reduced “schools estate” would help improve the overall standard of education.

However, many parents made their views plain during consultations that they wished schools to remain open.

Speaking during the final education and families committee meeting of this council ahead of the local authority elections, Ms Wishart said: “We … had a number of consultations on the school estate.

“I was disappointed to discover during some of them that education was not the first priority for our young folk among some parents and communities, so educational arguments fell on stony ground.

“But I guess that is the social climate we are living in.”

Ms Wishart said children’s services had made “important steps forward” during the life of the current council.

She said attainment levels had remained high, even though children’s services had to shed more than £7 million in the last five years.

She counted developments in the Learning Partnership as a major tool in helping provide young people with vocational skills.

“A particular thanks goes to Sandra Laurenson for her work in getting this success story off the ground and it is now being held up as a model for other authorities.”

She added: “According to the latest Education Scotland briefing on Shetland, this is still a high-performing authority.

“As far as literacy and numeracy is concerned, for the fifth year in succession performance at SCQF level four was much greater than the national comparator.

“So, despite the money that has had to come out of our budget, standards remain high. But this cannot continue and the challenge for the next council will be how to keep our attainment levels high with an ever-reducing pot of money.”

She pointed to the delivery of extra early learning and childcare hours and increased provision for looked after children as examples of “other challenges” the new council will face.

Her comments came after members were told plans for a new children’s home in Tingwall were progressing, with the proposals working their way through the planning process.

“I’m sure none of us want to see children being sent away to the mainland,” she said.

The new Anderson High School is the most conspicuous achievement of the current council. Photo courtesy of the SIC

Another major milestone for the authority has been the development of the new Anderson High School and hall of residence, both of which are progressing on time and on budget towards a completion date this year.

Ms Wishart said the high school’s development to near-completion stage was down to the “tenacity” of children’s services director, Helen Budge.

“At the beginning of this build there was a lot of scepticism, but that seems to have faded away.

“This will offer pupils a modern learning environment and hopefully enhance their experience of school.”

She said collaboration with Orkney and the Western Isles had grown stronger.

“Sharing information between the three authorities has allowed projects to go ahead which would have been difficult to undertake separately.”

And she also voiced support and thanks for staff at children’s services.

“Combined with dedicated teaching staff, the good work will continue.”

“So, despite the money that has had to come out of our budget, standards remain high. But this cannot continue and the challenge for the next council will be how to keep our attainment levels high with an ever-reducing pot of money.” VAILA WISHART

 

Ms Wishart concluded: “I would like to say a particular thank you to the director of children’s services, Helen Budge. We have not always agreed, but have managed an open and honest relationship and she has led her teams through some very difficult times, but has remained stoical in the face of both professional and personal hardship.”

• The new Anderson High School has received renewed praise by education and families member, Frank Robertson.

The West Side councillor, who has experience in architecture, said he was initially “sceptical” about the chances of completing the contract on time. But experience had proved him wrong, and he described the project as “fantastic”.

Today’s education and families committee meeting heard work on completing the £56 million budget was on time, and on budget, with the project rapidly moving towards its completion date of September this year.

Mr Robertson added it was now exactly 24 years since he had recommended a new high school at the Clickimin – “and it’s there, or nearly there, now,” he added.

About Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor has worked as a reporter since 1995, and has been at The Shetland Times since 2007, covering a wide variety of news topics. Before then he reported for other newspapers in the Highlands, where he was raised, and in Fife, where he began his career with DC Thomson. He also has experience in broadcast journalism with Grampian Television. He has lived in Shetland since 2002, where he harbours an unhealthy interest in old cars and motorbikes.

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11 comments

  1. Iris Sandison

    My, my, what’s this – a final salvo across the bows of the electorate in Shetland from Vaila? Well, I do hope she’s not including the parents of the Westside communities when she comments that ‘education was not the first priority among some parents and communities.’ As far as Aith JH School is concerned, it can hold its head up with any secondary school in Scotland, never mind Shetland, as far as exam results are concerned. A good enough reason for parents to fight to keep their good school open and avoid unnecessary transport to Lerwick.

    Reply
  2. Johan Adamson

    “I was disappointed to discover during some of them that education was not the first priority for our young folk among some parents and communities, so educational arguments fell on stony ground”

    Please take that back, that is not true, I am very shocked at this comment. Try asking the parents, not telling them.

    Reply
    • Andrea Manson

      Think you may find Johan that the comment was aimed at the community North who fought (and won) to keep the peerie schools open. That has been used as a stick to beat us with ever since the Council voted to support myself and Alastair Cooper when we, very properly, fought on behalf of our constituents who wanted the schools retained. The proposed closures were nothing to do with Education and everything to do with money. I asked at a meeting one day if we would be having the conversation at all about the closures of the Junior High Schools if we were not in a position of having to make budget cuts and no one could actually answer without admitting that it was just about funding and nothing to do with Education. Given Aith JH’s exemplary record come Exam time it should be the last secondary to go……..
      The fight will continue, hopefully, after the election.

      Reply
      • Debra Nicolson

        Of course it was all about the money. A certain councillor admitted that at the public meeting in Aith. I applaud any councillors that stuck to their convictions and fought on behalf of their constituents who wanted to keep schools open and maintain the excellent standard of education in rural schools. Other, more creative ways, should be looked at to ensure this threat of closure does not raise it’s ugly head again.

      • Iris Sandison

        Yes, exactly, Andrea. I well recall attending a pubic meeting at Aith Hall, which Vaila Wishart attended. When asked if it was about money, she replied, ‘Of course it’s about money!’ I’m sure the app 200 people at the meeting would confirm this.

  3. ian tinkler

    Political leader SIC. Gary Robinson, election manifesto, 17 April 2012. “We must recognise and support the achievement of pupils and staff at Aith JHS who gained some of the best exam results in the country. I stand on my track record of supporting schools in the Shetland West ward.”

    18:40 Friday, 13 September 2012. Radio Shetland interviewed Gary Robinson on , the eve of the Education Committee debate on school closure proposals.
    Councillor Robinson stated that “although I stood at the last election on a ticket supporting local schools, that he could not rule out support for closure of six schools.” Aith Junior High was one of those six.!!!
    Time for those on the West Side to take stock. Remember the pledges of the 2012 candidates. Good riddance springs to mind.

    Reply
  4. Debra Nicolson

    I am more than a little surprised at Vaila Wishart’s comments that education was not a ‘first priority’ ‘among some parents and communities’. I was at a packed public meeting at the Aith Hall during the last round of talks that Vaila Wishart also attended, where the passion for the education of young people on the Westside was very apparent. Not only had the community listened but they also put forward their own ideas and solutions to keeping up educational standards at the same time as keeping the rural schools open, while working within a decreasing budget. This is further proof that the community is not being listened to.

    Reply
  5. John Tulloch

    Vaila WIshart’s comment about parents’ priorities does her little credit.

    She committed to closing schools in her election manifesto and attempted forcefully to drive through the politically impossible goal of centralising secondary education in Lerwick and Brae. The plan was doomed to fail for two reasons:

    1. The claimed educational benefit was not established.
    2. The claimed financial imperative, namely, that Shetland education cost 40 per cent more per pupil than in Orkney and the Western Isles, was comprehensively debunked. Costs are almost exactly equal.

    Now, in her closing remarks, she criticises “parents’ priorities”.

    It’s sad to see so otherwise able a councillor so blinkered by ideology that she cannot recognise the huge waste of time, resources and family anxiety that resulted from the ill-considered schools closure plan.

    Reply
  6. John Irvine

    I like the word “outgoing”.

    Reply
  7. Alan Skinner

    Perhaps, before she goes, Ms. Wishart would have the grace to explain the circumstances surrounding her casting vote for the closure of Skerries middle school. Readers will no doubt remember that one of the two religious representatives on the education committee was “persuaded” or pressurised by mysterious councillors not to vote, which opened the door for Ms. Wishart’s casting vote, which, in my view, was the final nail in the coffin for Skerries.
    Ms. Wishart has made no secret of her views in favour of centralisation of education in Shetland. Centralisation was her “first priority”, and nothing to do with education. Her sniping comments are rather graceless.

    Reply
  8. Hilary Burgess

    “I was disappointed to discover during some of them that education was not the first priority for our young folk among some parents and communities, so educational arguments fell on stony ground”

    I think it is important to remember that when comments are made such as Vaila Wishart’s above, that it not only insults parents and rural communities but it also belittles the work and achievements of rural schools and their staff. There are so many educational innovations going on in rural schools with teachers and staff working exceptionally hard and putting in many extra unpaid hours for the benefits of their pupils and communities. How about we move on from the misinformation which has been put forward about rural education in Shetland in the past and lets hear council representatives speaking about the achievements of Shetland’s rural schools and valuing the views of these communities?

    Recently there has been an area of work on the development of the Curriculum for Excellence in Shetland’s Secondary schools. This involved parents representing all secondary and primary schools working together with teacher and union representatives and Hayfield staff. Surely the future of Shetland education looks brighter with co-operation rather than misinformation and insults?

    Reply

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