Educational folly (Gussie Angus)

The SIC is, once again, being asked to consider the future of secondary education in Scalloway, despite the recent and very full debate which concluded that the pupils’ education would be better served by attendance at Lerwick’s Anderson High School.

It’s worth recalling that Scalloway’s Junior High School owes its existence to a 1947 Shetland Labour Party policy to establish junior secondary schools throughout Shetland, mainly as a rural economic generator. It was also intended to support their parliamentary candidate, the late Prophet Smith, in his ultimately unsuccessful election campaign. Shetland Labour Party dominated Shetland’s county council politics in those days, although no candidate stood on a party ticket.

Starting with Sandwick Junior Secondary School, this policy saw the creation of a network of these schools throughout Shetland with which we are all now familiar. The policy held that, as most Shetland pupils would leave full-time education at age 15, there was little point in most rural and island pupils pursuing academic subjects beyond foundation level. Those who had other aspirations could attend the Anderson Educational Institute, as it was then called, in Lerwick.

Since that time, the school leaving age has been raised, comprehensive education introduced and the curriculum transformed far beyond even the 1947 visionaries’ expectations. Any number of Scottish education acts later, successive education service managements have struggled to make the Shetland school network compliant with the continuing revolution in curriculum development and the now familiar Scottish Qualification Authority’s examination structure. A number of education experts, brought in to advise SIC, have told us that the now re-branded junior high schools have no place in a modern Scottish education system. We have persisted, however, in the belief that the socio-economic benefit of these schools is such that to review their role and function is to threaten the very social fabric of rural Shetland.

These rural junior high schools have relied on an even more extensive network of feeder primary schools for their sustenance but falling school rolls serve to highlight their limited future, despite the understandable protests from those very small primary schools that look less and less viable, both educationally and economically, with every passing year.

This comes at enormous cost to the SIC – £42.5m annually, currently – and is only sustainable by raiding Shetland’s savings, the reserve fund, already dwindling as we pursue this failed policy. There surely must come a point when we recognise the futility, nay, folly of clinging to the belief that we can deliver the new Curriculum for Excellence from the 1947 school bus.

Cllr Gussie Angus
Town Hall,


Add Your Comment
  • Brian Smith

    • May 11th, 2011 10:09

    ‘Shetland Labour Party dominated Shetland’s county council politics in those days …’

    Would it had been so. If Gussie means that the small number of Lerwick Labour members (including JJ Aitken, RA Anderson) constantly outargued the vast reactionary majority there, it’s a point that could be argued. Certainly the situation was better then than now …

  • James Stewart

    • May 11th, 2011 10:39

    How popular were Labour’s 1947 changes? Not very in Lerwick anyway. In the 1949 Lerwick Town Council election, the 4 councillors standing under the Labour ticket failed to get elected:

    Although Arthur Johnson was appointed after another Labour man, James Brownlie resigned. Certainly in the 50’s Labour had no overwhelming majority in the Toon Council.

    • Brian Smith

      • July 17th, 2019 18:14

      I’ve just seen this comment by James. He is spot on: the 1950s was the period in Shetland when the dead hand of Grimondism crushed local politics.

  • Marina Thomason

    • May 11th, 2011 18:56

    The overall school rolls in Shetland are falling but this is due to secondary numbers falling not primary. Primary school rolls have increased very slightly since an all time low last year and what with increasing birth rates in Shetland in the last few years this figure looks likely to increase.

    The Schools Service projected primary numbers for 09/10 was 1,784. The actual number was 1,809.
    For 10/11 the projected figure was 1,674. The actual number was 1,812, a very small increase from the previous year but an increase just the same and not a decrease as councillors and council officials keep repeating.

    All figures are from the Schools Service.

  • Kevin Learmonth

    • May 12th, 2011 10:01

    Contrary to what Cllr Angus claims, at no point was it ever decided that “pupils’ education would be better served by attendance at Lerwick’s Anderson High School”. His statement is simply not true.

    The only burden of proof placed on the closure decision was that the education and facilities would not be significantly worse. At public meetings and via the media, Cllr. Angus was asked repeatedly what educational benefit existed at AHS that was not available at Scalloway. To date he has been unable to answer this question. The HMIe asked the same question, and also got no response.

    The motion before councillors next week is not to reverse a decision, it is to put in place a proper timetable to minimise disruption and distress to AHS and Scalloway pupils caused by the councils closure decision.

    The original closure decision gave only a vague timetable for closure, with no transition plan in place. I doubt councillors would have voted so readily for closure if they knew the plan was to close the school within 3 months of their decision.

    If parents, teachers and councillors want to see a new Anderson High built, backing the motion for a proper Scalloway transition plan is their best chance of making it happen. Putting 120 more bairns into the current AHS, and spending extra money on much needed social space, will be used as a justification that refurbishment is adequate, and a new school isn’t needed after all.

    Those arguing that everything is fine at AHS are undermining their own case that a new school is needed. A rapid transition from Scalloway to AHS further diminishes the case for a new school.


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