Knitting lessons could end in Shetland’s schools after summer if councillors back a plan this week to save £130,000. Fourteen part-time teachers would lose their jobs if the cut is agreed by the services committee on general election day as part of a package of new savings that are being sought this year to curb overspending.
Shetlands Islands Council is believed to be the only remaining local authority in Scotland to offer free knitting classes in primary schools. The craft is not a statutory requirement for education authorities to provide although obviously Shetland has a proud and long tradition of exquisite knitting skills, from Fair Isle jumpers to fine lace shawls.
The possible axing of traditional knitting was first revealed by The Shetland Times in February. In a report to go before the committee head of the schools service Helen Budge states: “The schools service is under financial pressure and over the past three years has had to reduce budgets. It is becoming increasingly difficult to do so without considering reducing discretionary service areas.”
She proposes that the staff be redeployed in accordance with the council’s redeployment policy or be offered voluntary redundancy. Some, she says, may choose to retire. “Initial discussions have already taken place and some of the staff have indicated a willingness to be redeployed.”
Mrs Budge acknowledges that there is a political risk in her plan as “ceasing knitting instruction in schools could be seen as detrimental to the cultural tradition of Shetland” but points out that there is a financial risk in not proceeding with it: “[I]f we proceed as in previous years, the schools services budget for 2010/2011 will have to be increased.”
Perhaps surprisingly, knitting teaching was only introduced in schools in the early 1970s, although previously domestic science teachers had offered some instruction. It was first suggested in 2005 that knitting be cut, but that proposal was rejected by the council’s finance working group. Since then, other discretionary services such as foreign language assistants in secondary schools have been cut.