The council has more work to do to demonstrate the educational benefit of its proposal to shut Scalloway’s secondary department, according to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education (HMIe).
After a highly emotive consultation with the community this autumn, the schools service today published its report to go before councillors on 8th December, recommending that the closure go ahead in June 2011 with the village’s S1-S4 pupils transferred to the Anderson High School next August.
HMIe’s view is critical because, should councillors proceed with closure in three weeks’ time, the Scottish government has six weeks in which it can overturn the decision and if clear educational merit is not presented, it is possible that education minister Mike Russell will throw out the proposal.
HMIe’s report says the proposal “may offer some educational benefits” both to pupils directly affected and to the wider Shetland community, and there should be “no detrimental impact” on young people’s educational experiences.
But having observed the tenor of a public meeting in Scalloway in late September, HMIe said the council “has yet to set out clearly the educational benefits of its proposal”. It also asked the SIC to “further clarify its financial calculations” for the closure.
The schools service has reduced by 20 per cent its estimate for savings from the closure, from £890,956 to £707,000 a year, the “vast majority” of which will be removed from the budget within two years, according to head of schools Helen Budge.
The campaign against shutting the secondary department has been an impassioned one, with over 2,000 people joining a protest group on social network site Facebook. But Hayfield staff argue the closure is necessary as part of plans to save £5.2 million from its £42 million education budget, by far the highest per-head spend in Scotland.
In a detailed 67-page document, the schools service sets out its response to the many fears and anxieties of staff, parents and pupils which have sprung up during consultation on the proposal in June.
Of the 411 consultation responses received, 338 were against with only 31 in support. Many queried the educational benefits of shutting a well-performing school with small class sizes and good community links. Others expressed reservations about moving pupils to the AHS because of the state of the buildings and “huge queues” for lunch. Some also said the proposal flew in the face of the council’s policy of decentralising jobs away from Lerwick.
In response, Hayfield sets out the stark financial challenges facing the council as a whole; having dipped into the oil reserves to fund a gold-plated education service, it is no longer able to provide such a “generous” number of schools and high staffing levels. The average cost of educating a secondary pupil in Shetland in 2007/8 was £10,765 and that position is now “untenable”.
On educational grounds, while acknowledging that both schools perform “extremely well”, it points to a 2008 HMIe report into the AHS showing that it was rated as “very good” on 11 indicators, “good” on five and “adequate” on one measure. That was a better performance than Scalloway’s HMIe inspection in 2006, rating it as “very good” on one measure, “good” on 14 indicators and “adequate” on three counts.
The report says pupils being transferred to Lerwick would have a wider range of subjects to choose from, given that S4 pupils in the AHS studied for qualifications in 30 different courses in 2009/10, compared to 20 courses in Scalloway.
While class sizes in Scalloway are smaller, it says AHS class sizes are operating “well below” the Scottish average. The report also highlights that 46 per cent of S1 pupils within Scalloway’s catchment area already attend the AHS.
Scalloway School Parent Council’s vice-chair Karen Eunson said the fight to keep the secondary open would go on: “It is particularly disappointing to see this proposal being put forward when the HMIe inspector’s report which accompanies it reflects the strong opposition to closure shown by the whole community. The HMIe report raises serious questions about the proposal on which the community was consulted.”
Ms Eunson said an error in the figures showing a £631,000 saving, contradicting the £707,000 sum which Hayfield believes can be saved, “hardly fills us with confidence in the quality of the contents” of the report. The parent council was due to meet to discuss its contents in full at 7pm tonight before delivering its full response.
· For full story, see this week’s Shetland Times. You can view the consultation report in full at www.shetland.gov.uk/education/BluprintforEducation.asp