20th November 2018
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Parents support last-ditch bid to save Scalloway secondary department

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Scalloway School’s parent council has given its full backing to an eleventh hour attempt from several councillors to postpone the planned closure of the village’s secondary department.

The decision came following a meeting last night at which parents agreed that, while staff in both schools had the best interests of pupils at heart, there remained “no confidence” that the dining and social areas at the Anderson High School would be adequate.

A notice of motion, signed by seven councillors including political leader Josie Simpson and convener Sandy Cluness, is calling for the closure to be postponed until the new AHS is complete – estimated to be 2017.

Since its publication there has been a backlash from some councillors who are angry that agreed council policy is being challenged so late in the day. The first pupils from Scalloway are due to start being educated at the existing AHS from the beginning of June.

Parent council vice-chairwoman Karen Eunson accepted it was “a pity it’s come so late”, but said parents “fully support” the motion. “In terms of the transition, we know that the staff in both schools are working very hard and have the best interests of the bairns at heart,” she said.

“But there are things they are not able to resolve about the physical nature of the building. Dining and social facilities are clearly worse than what they have now and there’s no confidence that they’re going to be improved.”

The SIC has this week invited tenders to construct an 80 square metre social space extension at the AHS, to be built this summer. Head of schools Helen Budge had been present at the meeting to try to assuage parents’ concerns, but Ms Eunson said she had been unable to do so.

“Folk didn’t feel re-assured,” she said. “The teachers are working hard, and are trying hard, but there was no re-assurance about the state of the buildings, therefore the motion to postpone [the closure] makes sense.”

Yesterday Gary Robinson and Jonathan Wills made outspoken attacks on their colleagues who signed the motion to look again at the decision made by the Full Council in December.

Mr Robinson said: “I find it incredible that a democratic decision of this council is being challenged this late in the day. What’s even more incredible is that four members of the ‘new’ leadership team have signed it and a fifth, Cllr Fullerton, is said to be ‘supportive’ of it.

“Following last year’s visit of the Accounts Commission and the criticism directed at all of us for lack of leadership and an inability to stick to decisions once taken, this latest development is unbelievable. I would hope that the Accounts Commission might now understand why so many members don’t want to be associated with the actions of our leaders, far less be held accountable for them.”

He added: “I feared the new leadership bore too much resemblance to the old leadership but I was prepared to put them on probation, in the hope that lessons had been learned. Unfortunately, this latest electioneering stunt, supported by retiring members, has breached all bail conditions.

“I feel truly sorry for the pupils whose plans have been thrown into uncertainty once more and for our staff who’ve put so much time and effort into ensuring a smooth transition for the pupils from Scalloway to Lerwick.”

Dr Wills attacked the councillors behind the motion as “clowns”. In a letter to The Shetland Times, he said: “The Full Council took this decision after an exhaustive consultation, extensive research and a democratic debate. The government’s Inspectors of Education backed it. I can understand why local members seeking re-election might wish to wreck this process, and why some senior retiring members might want to give them a leg up, in hopes of perpetuating the present regime beyond its absurd conclusion next May.

“However, when these local members are also on the new SIC executive committee, surely their commitment to the good of Shetland as a whole must come first? If they will put ward interests first, it is open to them to resign from the executive. That would be the honourable course. To try to throw everything into confusion, less than a month before the first pupils are due to transfer to Lerwick, shows a contempt for democracy and an alarming disregard for the welfare of the pupils.”

He added: “Those executive committee members who’re aiding and abetting this wrecking motion are completely irresponsible. They haven’t suggested where else savings could come from, if Scalloway’s secondary department remains open. That’s because they either have no idea or dare not say. Of course, the savings would have to come from lower budgets for all Shetland schools, and from the closure of more rural primary schools.”

Mrs Fullerton, however, said she was involved in the drafting of the motion and, though she “wasn’t around” to sign it, said she saw no reason to alter her opposition to the closure.

“Last time I voted to keep it open, and I don’t see any reason to change that view,” she said. “However, that £700,000 [saving] is going to have to be found from somewhere else in the council – it’s not possible to find it in the education budget.”

The notice of motion states that the decision to close Scalloway’s secondary department had left the village community “disillusioned with the council’s obvious disregard” of strong and widespread local support for the it 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.

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