Uyeasound’s small primary school is to shut after Christmas, but the SIC’s decision to close Burravoe Primary has been overturned by Scotland’s education minister Mike Russell.
Pupils from the Unst school will be transferred to Baltasound following the Christmas holidays after councillors’ decision to close it was given the ministerial nod on this morning. It will come as mixed news for North Isles parents who campaigned strongly for the two schools to remain open.
The SNP government – which announced a year-long moratorium on closures shortly after the two decisions – said it did not believe the council had demonstrated the educational benefits the Burravoe pupils would gain from being taught in Mid Yell.
The latter school was recently the subject of a mixed report from government inspectors HMIe, which identified room for improvement in a number of key areas.
In a letter to the SIC’s director of children’s services Helen Budge, published today, the government explained it felt the Burravoe closure was “flawed” and did not meet the terms of legislation introduced by the previous SNP administration in 2010.
The government’s letter continued: “Indeed, it would not comply with the council’s own stated strategy on school closures which makes clear closures are only proposed where this leads to an improvement in the level of educational services provided.”
MSP Tavish Scott has been critical of the five month time period it has taken Mr Russell to reach a verdict on the two schools. Councillors controversially voted to shut the two schools – and keep similar-sized primaries in Sandness and North Roe open – back on 17th May.
Uyeasound pupils will be taught in the community’s school for the final time on 21st December before moving to Baltasound. SIC education and families committee chairwoman Betty Fullerton said the news brought an end to what had been a “very unsettling period for the school and community”.
She said: “A school closure is difficult for all concerned, but at least now parents, teachers and pupils will be able to look to the future.”
A transition group including staff from Hayfield and both Baltasound and Uyeasound will now be set up to plan the transfer of pupils. It will also seek to ensure pupils are supported in getting used to their new school environment. The SIC said parents would be contact with further details, and they will get the opportunity to discuss the arrangements with staff.
The mooted closures were part of the council’s Blueprint for Education exercise, which is aimed at cutting millions from the SIC’s costly education budget.
Mr Russell’s decision to overturn the Burravoe closure is likely to prompt renewed clamour among some SIC councillors for the SNP government to cough up the cash necessary to maintain an extensive network of small rural schools in Shetland.
Responding to that decision, Mrs Fullerton said: “This was always a decision that was within the gift of the Scottish ministers to make. I can imagine staff, pupils and the community will be very pleased with the decision. The uncertainty has been removed and we can all start to plan for the future.”