Councillors will meet in Lerwick Town Hall tomorrow to discuss whether to postpone the planned closure of Scalloway’s secondary department until the new Anderson High School has been built.
The first village pupils are due to start S3 at the AHS on 1st June, with the remainder moving to Lerwick after the summer holidays. But a notice of motion drafted by the three central ward councillors is calling for the switch to be put on hold until 2017, when it is estimated the new school will be ready.
Accompanying the notice of motion is a short report from SIC chief executive Alistair Buchan, which spells out the practical consequences of a change of tack at this late stage. He does not recommend any particular course of action to councillors, but asks them to consider the educational, legal, financial and staffing implications of delaying the closure.
The 11th hour attempt to save Scalloway’s secondary has provoked a major political row in recent days, with Lerwick councillor Jonathan Wills railing against what he described as a “cynical device to overturn a democratic council decision and to undermine council financial policy”.
That in turn prompted Scalloway’s parent council to criticise some councillors’ “sensationalist statements”. Reiterating parents’ desire for the junior high to be saved, spokeswoman Karen Eunson said she hoped members would discuss the notice of motion “with the seriousness and respect it deserves”.
With the closure estimated by Hayfield House to lead to £707,000-a-year savings, Mr Buchan points out that the equivalent yearly sum would have to be found either by reducing the equivalent of 15 full-time teaching jobs elsewhere, cutting spending by £212 for each of the isles’ 3,330 pupils or making cuts within other council departments. The SIC is already seeking cutbacks of some £26 million between now and 2013/14.
A new statutory consultation exercise would have to be carried out in 2015, two years ahead of the estimated opening of the new AHS, in order to meet the terms of the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010. Scalloway parents and pupils would continue to be consulted on progress with the new school.
The AHS pupil roll is projected to rise to 874 in 2011/12, but if Scalloway pupils do not transfer that will fall to 758. It would lead to an increased average teaching space for each pupil at the high school, rising from 7m² to 8.1m².
Teachers have already been given classes for the new school year and Mr Buchan’s report asks members to bear in mind the “disruption” that would be caused to planning, specifically requiring changes to timetabling and the allocation of teaching resources.
If the closure goes ahead, 21 teachers at Scalloway will be offered a mixture of options: voluntary early retirement; voluntary redundancy; and transferring to another post. The report states: “17 staff have been allocated an early retirement, redundancy or transfer option. For 4 staff, options continue to be explored.” Those options have not yet been presented to staff.
Should councillors vote to overturn their December decision, taken by 13 votes to nine, the SIC would seek to permanently fill 25 posts across 14 schools which had been filled on a temporary basis in order to provide opportunities for redeploying Scalloway staff.
SIC convener Sandy Cluness, who voted against closure five months ago, and pro-closure councillor Gussie Angus will both miss tomorrow’s meeting as they are in Estonia for a meeting of the CPMR (Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions) think tank.