Times Past 16.01.09


Burra Isle tap water is now “super” according to one of the Burra and Trondra community councillors, Mrs Susan Morrow-Irvine. For some time now the community council has been corresponding with the construction department about the water and they recently confirmed that a scouring programme on Burra mains had just been completed.

The community council is now writing to the construction department requesting that scouring be carried out in Trondra. Mrs Jessie Sinclair said that Trondra water was very brown at the moment and to her knowledge the pipes have not been scoured for five years.

The community council also agreed at their meeting last Monday to send £300 towards the first phase of the new slipway at Hamnavoe Pier. The position will be reviewed at the end of the financial year and if money is still available a further contribution will be made. As well as a slipway, the Burra Isle Boating Club intend to build a boat next to the pier.


Mr John H. Spence, director of education, spoke about the promotion scheme to a crowded audience at the second of the “Educational Forum” series in Islesburgh House last Wednesday.

He was introduced by Mr R. A. Anderson, chairman of the Promotion Board, who noted that the “eleven plus” often came under fire. But he thought that whatever might be said about it, the method was still an improvement on the old method, which depended on a family’s wealth – nowadays it was a case of ability.

Mr Spence recalled that less than forty years ago, promotion to some secondary courses depended on the results of the qualifying examination, plus the opinion of a school inspector.

The Education Act of 1946 laid down that promotion must be made on the basis of age, aptitude and ability. It was nonsense to put children to courses for which they were unsuited – that was a common cause of delinquency.

Equal opportunity for all also involved selection, for it meant equal opportunity to take the most suitable course.

On the abolition of the qualifying exam in 1921, it was left to education authorities to devise ways of selection, and this involved co-operation between primary and secondary teachers.

Mr Spence has been unable to find a record of a definite scheme of promotion in Lerwick. For country pupils there was a bursary examination if and when one liked. It was taken any time convenient between the ages of 10 and 15. It was not a bad examination, but it was voluntary, and there was therefore a certain loss from the professions.

The 1946 Act required a promotion scheme, and the Scottish Education Department refused the Shetland Committee’s request to extend the promotion age to between 12½ and 13½. The committee could have depended on teachers’ estimates, but that would have laid them open to the danger of pressure from parents. They could have continued with the old type of exam, but that raised the problem of different standards with different examiners. They could have leaned on the parents’ wishes, but that would have been unwise.

Finally, the scheme they chose combined intelligence tests, a short examination, teachers’ recommendations and parents’ wishes.

The intelligence tests, which were not regarded as the most important part, were two in number at yearly intervals, and an average mark was taken. The tests were not infallible, as work and ambition entered into the matter too.

In the second test year there was an examination which included an essay written in pencil in forty minutes, and achievement tests in English and arithmetic. The English test was devised so that the candidate had to be either right or wrong. The arithmetic was a test of speed in working simple sums in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Teachers’ estimates were found to be pretty accurate, except in small schools; and parents’ wishes were always taken into consideration.

The promotion board worked very well locally, thought Mr Spence. There had not been much criticism. Its standards were basically those recommended for a rural area, and an average was struck for a senior secondary course. Most of those found to be above average would pass, most below would fail.

Thereafter, every child was looked at in detail, especially the borderline cases. The board thought most of the child, and decisions were taken very largely on parents’ wishes. Parents could appeal to the Secretary of State against the Board’s decision. In fact, in ten years there had been three such appeals, two of which had been sustained.

Even when the choice was made, it was not necessarily final. Under the scheme, the headmaster of each secondary school had to report on each pupil at the end of each term. It was possible to transfer from one kind of secondary course to another, at any stage, and such transfers had taken place. No harm was done if a pupil, after one year in the junior secondary, transferred to the senior secondary – the extra first year did not harm at all. There was also the late developer.


Walls in 1920 – Last night I lay asleeping, there came a dream so fair, I dreamt I was in Walls, and it was the year 1920. “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

The swift turbine steamer Vaila had made the passage from Aberdeen in 10 hours, and I stepped ashore on a fine ferro-concrete pier, where a uniformed “boots” met me, and took my luggage to the large hotel overlooking the Voe. Passsengers going north flocked into the refreshment rooms which occupy the old “People’s Stores”.

A broad road, with footpaths, led up to the village, and I found myself admiring the pretty cottages on the roadside. Going into the studio of P. & Co., Limited., I purchased some excellent postcards, and sent them to my friends. The Post Office is now moved, and situated on what was formerly the office of I. & Co., and is entered by a door separate from the shop – the office of the firm being upstairs.

The thing that struck me most was the fine new church with spire, clock and chimes, situated at the beginning of Sandness Road. The whole population worship in this “United Church”, where two ministers officiate. The clergy of former years have all gone to south churches. The old Parish Kirk is the village hall, the Congregational building contains a lifeboat and rocket apparatus, whilst the Wesley is the public school.

The Schoolhouse is occupied by a doctor and his Assistants and the school is now a cottage hospital. The infectious cases are housed in the old United Free church.

Between the Post Office and the burn, the Coats-Carnegie Library stands. Each side of Sandness and Bridge of Walls roads is lined by rows of workmen’s houses. That part formerly occupied by the fishing boats round by the Foula house, is now filled with a fleet of steam trawlers and drifters owned locally, but the curing stations – 18 to 20 – are out west, at Burrastow.

Amongst the changes – a district nurse, policemen, Custom House officer, street lamps and fire engine; also motor connection between Walls and Lerwick.

Bir-r-r-r-r-r-birr!!! Time to get up. It was only a dream of what could be, and of what may be.


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