More than 250 people turned out at a public meeting last night to protest against plans to close Scalloway school’s secondary department.
Pupils, parents and retired teachers were among those who came to the school on Tuesday night as part of the SIC’s statutory consultation process.
They oppose the proposal to shut the village’s 116-pupil secondary department, insisting plans to decant pupils to the Anderson High in Lerwick would fail to offer any of the educational benefits put forward by the SIC.
The council says pupils attending the Anderson High would have access to a larger group of qualified teaching staff, which will result in a greater choice of subjects for youngsters to study.
Officials say they need to save £6m from their £38m education budget as part of the Blueprint for Education review.
The meeting, chaired by services committee chairman Gussie Angus, followed the SIC’s June decision to formally consult on the closure of five primary schools and two secondaries.
However the council members and staff struggled to get their message across during an emotive but well-mannered meeting.
Many of those attending insisted Scalloway already had the benefits being promised at the Anderson High.
Fledgling plans to expand the area around Scalloway by building new houses would make a secondary school an essential part of the community, they said.
Some added social areas at the Anderson, such as the dining hall, were already overcrowded, and maintained they would rather see their children sent to Sandwick or Brae if Scalloway had to close.
Fears were also raised that closing Scalloway could effectively open the floodgates for other rural schools to shut down.
Chairman of Burra and Trondra Community Council Bobby Hunter said the council had achieved something of significance in the plans – it had made Burra and Scalloway folk agree.
“The community council is implacably against this proposal. I haven’t met anybody in Burra, Trondra or Scalloway in favour of it.
“The standard of education and results in Scalloway are second to none. If Scalloway secondary closes, it is inevitable in a year or two some clever councillor is going to say, ‘what about closing Hamnavoe?’, ‘what about closing Tingwall?’, ‘what about closing Whiteness and Weisdale?’.”
Mr Hunter, who is also the vice-chairman of Hjaltland Housing Association, highlighted “definite plans” to build 200 houses in the area, which would leave Scalloway in need of a secondary department.
“I’m sure that would be in jeopardy if we were to go for planning permission and there was no school. I would ask you to dismiss this proposal,” he said.
Many were keen to examine the achievements Scalloway has made which, they said, should spare it from the axe.
Brian Nugent focused on the council’s own proposal paper, which highlights nine points of comparison in standard grade attainment between Scalloway and the Scottish average.
He said: “Scalloway beats the Scottish average eight times. There are 12 points of comparison between Scalloway and the Shetland average and Scalloway beats that eight times, with two equal.”
Retired head teacher at the school, Ian Fraser, said parents’ “prime interest” in the school lay in the education of their children.
He criticised the advances in information technology at the Anderson being put forward by the council insisting it was a “catch-up exercise” with Scalloway.
“The onus is most definitely on Shetland Islands Council to demonstrate beyond doubt the advantages to education of closing our secondary and moving pupils to Lerwick. This they have failed to do in my submission.”
Meanwhile the retired head teacher of Tingwall Primary, Brenda Scollay, said Scalloway had brought the best out of pupils.
She explained how a pupil in her care had suffered from low confidence, being “not an academic bairn”, but had blossomed after moving the the junior high in Scalloway through the efforts of teachers.
“His self-esteem had been raised through the efforts teachers had made to tailor the curriculum to suit that bairn,” she said. “It’s about the breadth of education – it’s not all about passing exams.”
Meanwhile, there were questions over what would happen to the building if closure was granted. Head of schools Helen Budge said the area was ripe for an extension in primary school services, particularly if all those new houses were going to be built.
The council’s representatives were also forced to defend the Anderson High School from attack from some quarters.
Parent Pauline Fullerton said she had attended the school as a pupil. “The building wasn’t fit for purpose when I was in it, and I can’t see how it’s fit for purpose now,” she said.
“It’s about time you started to build a secondary high school in Lerwick that is fit for purpose, but not fit for purpose for the whole of Shetland.”
Mr Angus said there had been “considerable work” done on the Anderson High over the last 18 months, which had seen it upgraded from “adequate” to “good”.
Some people in the outer-reaches of Burra said travelling times to Lerwick would be too long for their children.
Mother Kay Anderson said: “If you are going to be transporting pupils all the way from the south end of Burra into Lerwick, what time are they going to have to rise in the the morning?”
One person thought a helicopter was going to be needed, although Mrs Budge said a feeder service for the buses would be introduced.
Mr Angus said falling school rolls and the ongoing need to find savings were behind the decision.
He said there would be a 31 per cent decrease in school age population by 2031.
Highlighting the recent critical report of the council by the Accounts Commisson, he insisted the authority could not afford to use its reserves to support services.
The council’s education spokesman, Bill Manson, said: “I agree that this should be and is about education. But I regret you can’t separate it from money, I’m afraid.
“I’ve watched in my time as education spokesman for the last few years as, each year, we have squeezed the education budget a little bit more and a little bit more, against a background … of falling school rolls.”