By NEIL RIDDELL
The Blueprint for Education document is the SIC’s latest attempt in a series of exercises aimed at finding savings from its £34.5 million annual spend on education, which is far higher per pupil than in any other area of the country, including comparable areas like Orkney and the Western Isles.
According to the document and in line with new Scottish government guidelines, any school (not including primary departments in remote islands like Skerries, Foula and Fair Isle, which are exempt) with a pupil roll of 20 or below is vulnerable to closure and/or amalgamation.
Those criteria point to a possible threat for schools at Burravoe, Cullivoe, North Roe, Sandness, Urafirth and Uyeasound primaries, while P1-7 numbers in Olnafirth, Baltasound and Skeld are also projected to teeter close to the 20-pupil mark in the next couple of years. Questions may also be raised over the Skerries’ two-pupil secondary department, though the final decision on any school closures now lies with the Scottish government itself. Fetlar’s small primary department, meanwhile, seems likely to close simply because it will soon have no pupils left.
Figures based on the 2007/8 financial year, provided by the education department in response to a request by The Shetland Times, show that £14.69 million is spent on educating pupils in the nine secondary schools around the isles, including £5.72 million on the Anderson High School and £2.54 million on Brae High School, as well as seven-figure sums for Aith, Sandwick and Scalloway.
The latter, with a roll of 112 projected to rise to 152 by 2010/11, costs £1.33 million to run. It has previously been mooted for closure, with its pupils to be incorporated into the AHS, though the allocated capacity for the new Lerwick school does not appear to anticipate such a move. Skerries’ two-pupil secondary department cost £51,089 when it was a single-pupil school in 2007/8.
Just over £13 million is spent on primary education throughout Shetland, employing 192 staff and catering for a school roll of 1,843 at the isles’ 33 schools. A breakdown of figures for the primary departments which could be vulnerable to closure can be seen in the table (…), while the biggest primary schools come at a cost of £1.73 million for Bell’s Brae, £1.56 million for Sound, £845,000 for Dunrossness and around £650,000 apiece for Whalsay and Scalloway.
The 21 nursery departments, meanwhile, account for a spend of £1.73 million on a roll of 331 pupils, who are looked after by 34 teaching and support staff. Nursery closures are very unlikely to be on the agenda, but a strong argument offered in favour of closing small primary departments is that, for instance, parents are willing to transport pupils aged three and four in Sandness to the Happyhansel in Walls, but the children then revert to being taught in their own community for the subsequent seven years of primary education.
A further £4.18 million is spent on additional support needs (ASN), which includes catering for six adults in the Anderson High School’s ASN department. There are 115 teachers and support staff taking care of 55 special needs pupils in Shetland.
Meanwhile, a common argument among parents and residents in rural communities opposed to the closure of schools is that cost-cutting should begin at home for the schools service and that efficiencies should be sought by reducing the number of officials before thought is given to any closures. A total of £1.19 million is spent on employment, administration and running costs for the schools service at Hayfield House, where there are 37 directly-employed full-time equivalent members of staff.
The total administrative figure is likely to be higher than that, however, as there are a number of staff within Hayfield House working across the education and social care department. The annual expense of running the whole of Hayfield including employment, running costs and administration comes to £2.88 million.