Knitting lessons in primary schools may be cut to save council money

The Whalsay History Group held an exhibition recently demonstrating the vast array of skills in the isles. Click on image to enlarge.

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.


Add Your Comment
  • Mary

    • May 3rd, 2010 13:41

    Good, really hope it is got rid of – most bairns, particularly boys, absolutely loathe knitting. My 3 kids had years of misery being forced to do knitting. And I know of many other families who feel the same way…….

  • Sandy McMillan

    • May 3rd, 2010 23:21

    First the music, Now the knitting, Both a Traditional part of Shetland, Shetland fiddle music and the Fair Isle knitting, If the councillors were to stop there trips to see this and that they would save thousands, When are they going to stop this foolish cut backs, And take a look around nearer to home, eg in there own chambers and the SIC on the whole, The sooner the election come about the better, as a change is badly needed across the board.

  • Peg Young

    • May 12th, 2010 10:37

    I’m not sure that school is the best place to learn traditional knitting. It was taught to us in school an adjunct to what we were doing at home–and boys certainly would never consider it. I remember one teacher being angry with me because I couldn’t knit gloves on four needles. You canna use da belt wi fower wires!!

    I have vivid memories of learning to knit on the couch in our flat at 8 St. Magnus Street when I was 4. Mam had taken Daddy’s Home Guard khaki socks apart and used the wirsit to teach me. It was a long and laborious job getting my peerie fingers used to the wires, but at least I could pick it up and put it away when I wanted. I was anxious to please my mam, not a teacher, and that motivation was never forced. Passed on to me by some silent, magical process was the awareness that it was expected of me to knit–like all the women did. It was a thing of necessity in those days, with women trying to add to the meagre incomes that we had after the war. Because we had no television or other electronic goodies to divert us, knitting was an essential part of social activity.

    Do you still hear, “Lass, tak dy sock.”?

    There are many things which need to be taught in school, but I know that I would never have learned to knit as well from a teacher as I did at my midder’s knee. I might even have resisted and done badly. As a retired teacher, I think that to call something “traditional” does not mean that everyone has to be proficient in it, and that if anything, it should be an option in the curriculum.

    It is unfortunate that something that does have value is being wiped out with a callous stroke of the pen, but I’m sure that those who wish to practice the art will continue finding ways to teach and learn it.


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