Shetland’s junior high schools will be undergoing change of some sort when final decisions are taken on the future shape of Shetland education in the near future.
Very careful consideration has to be given to the future of the isles schools as they play such a crucial role in the life of their communities.
The isles junior secondary schools started operating as junior high schools in August 1967. All pupils stayed on to the end of secondary two before the more able pupils transferred to the Anderson Educational Institute and a limited range of O Grades were offered to those who stayed on.
Undoubtedly, the most important advance for the rural junior high schools came in the early 1990s when the point of entry to the Anderson High School became secondary five rather than third year. Within a short time the junior high schools were producing fourth year results on a par with and often better than the AHS.
Most importantly, however, certainly from an Unst perspective, is the greater sense of belonging that these pupils have with their home community, having been able to stay at home full-time into the fringes of their young adult life. It is therefore no coincidence that these young people are now prominent among the young folk expressing the desire to settle permanently in their native island.
Much has been written about the fragile recovery being experienced with Unst’s programme of regeneration. To be a success, much depends on the confidence of these same young people to take the next steps towards making their future here permanent, hopefully by starting businesses and building houses.
But all forward thoughts came to a shuddering halt last November with the publication of the Blueprint for Education where the invidious term “non viable option” was taken by us all as a verdict on the community, not just the secondary school.
Next Thursday at the SIC services committee, councillors have the opportunity to remove the threat hanging over the isles junior high schools. The education department, to its credit, has taken heed of the intensity of opposition to the original Blueprint document and has produced two proposals that make a lot of sense.
These would retain secondary education in the isles junior high schools with greater sharing of resources including staffing and other efficiencies. These “other efficiencies” all include “a reduction of central staff” which would find favour in every quarter bar Hayfield House.
Every day recently the Scottish news bulletins on the radio and television have been examining the Curriculum for Excellence and hearing a variety of views expressed on the pros and cons of how and when to implement the programme throughout Scotland. Junior high schools with “all through” age three to 16 classes and seamless transition through the stages of education are by far the best positioned to deliver this and indeed are ready to do so now.
We hope the future of secondary education in Unst can be secured at the earliest opportunity. Councillors should speak to teachers.
Laurence B Robertson
Unst Community Council