Pupils from Skerries would benefit from a broader educational experience if the island’s secondary department was closed and they travelled to the Anderson High School in Lerwick, according to the council.
In the consultation report which it is legally obliged to produce for any proposed closure, the schools service and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education (HMIe) highlight the wider range of subjects available, the greater experience and expertise of teaching staff, improved access to resources, including computers, and access to a larger peer group as among the advantages of closing the three-pupil department in June next year at a saving of around £70,000.
But according to a socio-economic study compiled for the council after pressure from islanders the impact on the community itself could be severe, with the potential loss of two families and a total of 12 people, reducing the population to 67.
And HMIe, pointing out that parents are right to be concerned about the children travelling alone on the ferry, has asked the council to carry out a full risk assessment for its proposed transport arrangements, which also include the use of a seven-seater taxi to and from Vidlin and Lerwick.
The council received 120 written responses to its consultation on the closure, with 33 (27.5 per cent) in favour, 81 (67.5 per cent) against and the rest not expressing a view. Quality of education was at the top of the list of supporting reasons among the former, while the latter raised the detrimental impact on the community, the travel issue and question marks over the stated cost savings.
The council argues strongly that given the need to find substantial savings in the education budget the Skerries secondary department is no longer sustainable and that the practice of children travelling to stay in the hostel during the week is well-established in the isles.
However, the study by economist Steve Westbrook suggests that even now fishing and aquaculture, the island’s economic mainstays, are finding it difficult to attract employees. The five boats operating out of Skerries have “found it difficult to recruit local crew and this reduces the time the boats spend in Skerries”.
Bound Skerries, which operates a salmon farm and fish processing factory, is currently on a care and maintenance basis due to lack of staff after two members of staff left the island recently.
Mr Westbrook states: “Overall, then, the impacts of closing the secondary department in Skerries could be severe, with implications for the main drivers of the island economy – the fishing fleet and Bound Skerries – as well as for retail and for the fire service and for community activity. The balance of the population would be changed and this will possibly affect the arrangements for (and costs of) long term care for the elderly. Given that, it would be important to take action to replace those who would move away (if this is possible) with families willing to accept the new educational arrangements.”
For full story, see this week’s Shetland Times.