By ROSALIND GRIFFITHS
Parents of Mossbank pupils this week pledged vigorously to oppose any cuts in staffing levels at the primary school.
They met with education chiefs on Wednesday night to express their concern that a teacher from the school may be “re-deployed” elsewhere, leaving only two teachers for the school, which currently has 47 pupils.
This comes in the wake of the news that the head teacher, shared with Olnafirth Primary School in Voe, is about to leave after barely a year in office.
Parents told quality improvement manager Audrey Edwards and quality improvement official Lesley Roberts that when it came to staffing levels, Mossbank should be considered as a special case due to its transient population. Mrs Edwards said the school roll is due to fall by the beginning of the next school year in August, but parents said more families were expected by then.
Shetland’s education policy states that a school of 45 to 67 pupils should have three teachers, whereas a school of 19 to 45 pupils should have only two (comparing favourably with Scottish government guidelines: two teachers for schools of 20 to 47 pupils and three for schools of 48 to 71). Mrs Edwards said if the school roll was 45 is August, staffing levels would stay as they are.
Numbers at the school have fluctuated dramatically since the oil boom, when the school had more than 100 pupils, thanks to the council’s policy of housing incoming workers in the council houses at Firth.
Shetland North councillor Alastair Cooper said that he had statistical evidence of the transient community over the last 30 years. He asked: “If you say two teachers and next week a family with six bairns moves in, what are you going to do?” He called for consideration of Mossbank’s “extenuating circumstances”.
Chairman of the parent council Rab Logan expressed the feeling of the parents by saying simply: “Redeployment is not going to happen.” It would be easy to take a teacher away but not easy to get one back, he said, and it was impossible to predict the school roll. He said he had already written to head of schools Helen Budge and other parents were doing the same.
Ms Roberts pointed out that schools in other communities, Unst for example, had seen fluctuating numbers, and schools in both Aith and Bressay were likely to lose a teacher.
But parents said Mossbank was unique in Shetland and should be granted some stability – if resources are taken away from the school the area will become less attractive to potential residents.
They are particularly concerned that the council’s policy of re-deployment was “last in first out”, and this would mean losing a popular member of staff.
Ms Roberts and Mrs Edwards said they would convey the strength of feeling to Mrs Budge, but they had to work within policy.
For Mossbank parents the situation is exacerbated by the imminent loss of head teacher Simon Welch, who moved to Shetland from Cornwall to take up his shared headship post. Mr Welch, who lives in Leaside, Firth, has been unable to sell his house in Cornwall and is moving back with his family in the summer.
Mr Welsh is credited with making many positive improvements in the school, which received a glowing report from inspectors earlier in the year.
Members of Mossbank Parent Council will be entitled to participate in the selection of a new head teacher. Sharing a head teacher with Voe was not perceived to be a problem, but it had to be the “right person”. The previous head teacher and first to be shared with Voe, Ian Perry, also left Shetland abruptly after only nine months in the job.