The primary schools at Burravoe and Uyeasound, which seemed destined for closure when councillors voted last month to transfer their pupils to Mid Yell and Baltasound, may now win a reprieve from the Scottish government.
Ministers informed the SIC today that they have “called-in” the decisions taken to close the island schools, saying the council had not demonstrated the educational benefits of doing so. They also said the alternatives available in the event of closure had not been fully considered.
On 17th May councillors voted by 11 votes to nine to close Burravoe and 12 votes to eight to close Uyeasound. This followed a lengthy consultation process contained in the Blueprint for Education and came shortly before the government announced a year-long moratorium on rural school closures.
The decision to close the isles’ schools was challenged by both communities, with people in both areas asking ministers to revisit the decisions.
In two letters to SIC head of schools Helen Budge, the Scottish government’s head of schools infrastructure Jonathan Moore said ministers concluded that the council “may not have paid sufficiently special regard to alternatives prior to moving to consultation”.
The letters state that the ministers took into account of 65 representations to call-in the Burravoe decision and 60 on Uyeasound. Ministers also considered reports on both schools by HMIe and highlighted relevant sections.
Regarding Burravoe, the report stated: “[T]he only viable alternative considered by the council was to maintain provision of primary education at Burravoe Primary School. The council has not fully explained the educational benefits claimed and how they will be realised, and the reasons for not pursuing any alternative option.”
In the case of Uyeasound the council “has not clearly set out how it will ensure that children at Uyeasound Primary School will continue to benefit from very high quality learning experiences” and “[the council] believes that the only viable alternative to closure would be to maintain provision of primary education at Uyeasound Primary School”. The council had not fully explored or explained the educational benefits and the reasons for not pursuing any alternative.
Chairman of Burravoe Parent Council Steven Brown said he was delighted the closure decision was now being re-examined. Mr Brown said: “We are very relieved, it’s a huge relief to parents. It’s got us a stage further and we’ll hopefully get a good result at the end of the next stage.” He was pleased the ministers had not seen the educational benefit of closure and any clear alternative to keeping the school open. “That’s what we’ve been telling them.”
However the outcome for the school is far from certain. Mr Brown said: “It concerns us that it’s still in a state of flux, it could still go against us. Scalloway [secondary department] was called in and still had the decision of closure.”
Chairman of Uyeasound Parent Council Derek Jamieson said he too was delighted. “It’s good news, it’s what we’re looking for. The ministers could see no educational benefit [in closure], that’s what we’ve been saying all along.”
He said he hoped the final decision would be made as soon as possible as the school breaks up for the summer holiday next week. Under the council proposals it had been due to close in October, at the end of the term.
Last month Mr Jamieson denounced the council’s decision to close the two primary schools as inconsistent and illogical, as two similar schools, North Roe and Sandness, were spared.
Chairwoman of the council’s education and families committee Betty Fullerton said: “The ministers obviously have the power to call-in any school closure, so we will now wait and see what decisions they reach. It’s effectively out of our hands as a council. For the sake of the pupils, teachers and parents at both Uyeasound and Burravoe, I trust the decisions won’t take too long, as I know that this will be a very unsettling time.”