Seven councillors have given their backing to a surprise eleventh hour attempt to save Scalloway School’s secondary department from closure.
The move, led by central ward members Andrew Hughson and Iris Hawkins, to revisit December’s decision to shut the 116-pupil department has received the backing of SIC political leader Josie Simpson and convener Sandy Cluness, along with a further three councillors.
They have put forward a notice of motion to be debated at the Full Council meeting on 17th May stating that the closure – which was called in but ultimately ratified by the Scottish government – had left the village community “disillusioned with the council’s obvious disregard” of strong and widespread local support for the school to be kept open.
The motion calls for the secondary department to be retained until the new Anderson High School is completed, which officials estimate will not be before 2017. There is continued concern from Scalloway parents about the lack of social and dining areas at the existing Knab buildings, and the impact adding 100 or more pupils could have.
The motion states: “The community’s concerns as to the capability of the accommodation available at the Anderson High School to accept pupils from Scalloway alongside current pupils have not been alleviated. The effect on all pupils concerned will be detrimental.”
In December members voted 13-9 to go ahead with the closure, which the schools service estimates will save £707,000 a year. It forms part of the “blueprint for education” exercise, designed to shed £5 million from the local authority’s annual education spend over a three-year period.
The third central ward councillor Betty Fullerton, who is also chairwoman of the SIC’s services committee, was not able to sign the motion before it was handed in today, though Mrs Hawkins said Mrs Fullerton was supportive of the move to save the school.
“From our point of view we couldn’t let the Scalloway secondary department close without trying to save it,” Mrs Hawkins told The Shetland Times. “The social space and dining space is still not there – putting 120 pupils in among that is really not going to help any pupil, either from Scalloway or those already there.”
She does not believe things have progressed too far for the decision to now be reversed because “it would be June before the first bairns go there, and then after the summer for the rest”.
Education spokesman Bill Manson said he wanted to re-assure parents and pupils that Hayfield staff would continue to work towards the first pupils transferring to the AHS on 1st June.
He said the “practical side of education has progressed to a point where it’s at least difficult to turn back” and pointed out that overturning the closure would mean having to redraw school timetables only a fortnight before S3 pupils from Scalloway were due to move to Lerwick.
“I hope staff will continue to work towards that date until, when and if any change is made by the council,” said Mr Manson. “In practical terms, if staff stop working now it will be too late for the 1st of June, and everything is proceeding towards a smooth transition at that time.”
Lerwick South councillor Jonathan Wills, who voted in favour of the closure, pointed out that elected members’ habit of revisiting decisions was “exactly what the Accounts Commission criticised” when it took councillors to task at a two-day hearing last summer.
The other signatories to the notice of motion are North Isles members Robert Henderson and Laura Baisley and North Mainland councillor Alastair Cooper. Mr Cooper is the only signatory to have voted in favour of the closure five months ago. In order to overturn the original decision, at least two councillors would need to be persuaded to alter their stance.
Parent council representative Karen Eunson said a meeting with head of schools Helen Budge had already been scheduled for tomorrow night. She expected the notice of motion would be discussed then, alongside parents’ ongoing concerns about the arrangements for the transition from Scalloway to the AHS.