Now that the second round of school closure consultations has begun many residents of rural areas will be breathing a sigh of relief that their local school is not currently under threat. Most people (understandably) will not have read the proposal papers as it doesn’t immediately affect them. There is however an issue in the Sandness proposal which has implications for the whole of Shetland.
In the proposal for the closure of Sandness Primary School both Happy Hansel in Walls and the Aith primary department are named as possible receiving schools for the Sandness pupils. The travel time to Aith is said to be 45 minutes, although I think it is an underestimate. It is stated that it “does not create an intolerable travel time for primary pupils”. I disagree but the education department clearly thinks that one-and-a-half hours on a bus every school day for five to 11 year olds is acceptable. Now whether all or any of the proposed closures go ahead one thing is clear from past experience: there will be future closure attempts.
Using 45 minutes as the acceptable travel time could drastically change the provision of primary education in Shetland. Taken to its logical conclusion it could well mean one primary school south of Lerwick (maybe in Sandwick), one in Lerwick, perhaps one in Scalloway, one in Brae, one in Aith and one in each of the isles. This is not what is proposed at the moment but if the schools currently under threat were to close we will be one step closer to this scenario.
The centralisation of school and other services is a serious threat to rural communities through depopulation and to prosperity as more income is spent on travel as the price of fuel continues to rise. Centralisation also has a detrimental effect on Lerwick as can be seen in the housing shortage, the high cost of private rent and the rising crime rate. I would urge anybody who cares about rural schools, the sustainability of rural communities and the future affluence of Lerwick to support the threatened schools. Support can be given by contacting councillors, by contacting Tavish Scott MSP, by writing to the education department and by completing consultation response forms which can be found at www.shetland.gov.uk/education/PublicMeetings.asp
It is worth remembering that around two thirds of Shetland’s population does not live in Lerwick but if the march of centralisation continues then two thirds will live in Lerwick, which is a situation few would welcome. Keeping rural schools open is an essential piece in the jigsaw for Shetland’s future prosperity. Please consider the issues I have highlighted and the effect they will have on all the communities in Shetland and Shetland as a whole.