Council set to ditch unpopular hostel charges for senior pupils

The SIC looks set to ditch its unpopular plans to introduce charging for senior pupils who board at the Janet Courtney Hostel when attending the Anderson High School.

Councillors voted 9-6 at February’s budget-setting meeting to press ahead with the £25-a-week charge, despite a warning from South Mainland councillor Allison Duncan that it risked creating a two-tier education system.

Over 400 people signed up to a Facebook page objecting to the means-tested charge, which was to have been imposed on the parents of many S5 and S6 pupils.

The levy had been due to be introduced before now, but was delayed in March. Councillors will next week be asked to abandon the plans altogether – a move sure to prove popular among those living in small islands.

In a report going before the Full Council next Wednesday, head of children’s services Helen Budge says that “detailed legal analysis” concluded it would only be possible to charge for pupils’ boarding in “very specific circumstances”.

Instead, Mrs Budge’s report suggests finding the £22,750-a-year savings from a small reduction in secondary school staff. She would still retain the power to charge for anyone staying at the Janet Courtney as a result of a placing request.

Mr Duncan, who previously branded the charge a “tax on island families” and a “damned disgrace”, told The Shetland Times that he considered the imminent reversal a “victory for common sense”. It would have affected his Fair Isle constituents.

“What it really means to me is that there will be no inequalities for the young folk attending the halls of residence,” he said. “I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all the officers, members and parents involved for reaching an excellent and satisfactory conclusion to the matter.”

John Irvine of the Mid Yell Parent Council said he would welcome a decision to drop the charge, because pupils from island schools had no option other than to attend the AHS if they wanted to continue their education beyond fourth year.

“The potential hardship for hardworking families of finding an extra £100 a month may end up being the deciding factor of whether their children continue education past S4,” Mr Irvine said. “It’s an aim of our parent council to promote equality between our pupils and those in the rest of Shetland.”

Mrs Budge said the fact that some S5 pupils are not eligible to leave school until after Christmas would have resulted in a scenario where “you’d have so many you would be charging and so many you would not”.

She couldn’t entirely discount the possibility of looking again at introducing charges for sixth year pupils, depending on how “tight” budgets are in the future, but for now the idea is to look elsewhere for the savings.

Back in February, the then education and families committee chairwoman Betty Fullerton had been content that the charge was simply to cover the cost of food. She contended that it would make the system fairer, because parents with children who stay at home throughout the school week already have to pay to keep them fed and watered.

But islanders protesting against the charges argued that it was unfair to allow pupils on the Mainland to travel home five days a week using free buses, while imposing a new charge on their children who are away from the family home all week and already in need of extra “spending money”.


Add Your Comment
  • Hazel Spence

    • June 29th, 2012 8:42

    Illegal! Why does the council not look into these matters before threatening outlying communities. I personally would of had 2 children requiring hostel accommodation at one time costing £200 a month plus spending money for lunch etc which in this financial climate is not possible. The previous council once again have lost a degree of respect.

  • Johan Adamson

    • June 29th, 2012 10:26

    They wouldnt have saved money anyway since the government give the SIC the money for the hostel – because they are legally obliged to have it

  • Denise Niven

    • June 29th, 2012 14:12

    How can they still be able to look at charging for sixth year in the future (if the budget gets tight) if it is illegal to charge for either fifth or sixth year?

  • Andrew Martin

    • June 30th, 2012 12:05

    Why shouln’t they pay? It costs me a lot more than £25 a week to pay for my bairns at home!

  • Linsey Nisbet

    • June 30th, 2012 15:19

    Would Andrew Martin rather have his bairns staying in the Hostel then? Having been a hostel bairn myself, and the mum of three bairns in the hostel over the years, I would gladly have paid much much more than £25 a week just to keep them at home. We do not enjoy sending our bairns off to Lerwick all week, (at the age of twelve in the case of my eldest). I know it costs us to feed and care for them at home, but that is what parents do. To be obliged to send them off to the hostel in order to get their Highers is surely payment enough. We live on an island, and have no choice, but we miss our bairns and although they are VERY well treated in the hostel, they do have to endure homesickness and the lack of their own home comfort. My daughter still remembers, with a heavy heart, the sad and lonely feeling of setting off on the bus straight after her Sunday lunch in order to get back to the Hostel. A family day together on Sunday should be something we can take for granted.
    I am not complaining about the Hostel at all, nor my island life. I would just like a little understanding about the reality of life for island bairns who have to live away from home all week. Charging for something they have no control over would seem rather harsh.

  • John Tulloch

    • July 1st, 2012 8:49

    Quite right, Linsey.

    We shouldn’t forget that the reason hostel kids have to stay away from home is to save the council the expense of educating them where they live, whether in the isles or other parts more remote from Lerwick.

    Perhaps the rural schools will be able to re-open once the promised Klondike from various renewable energy resources arrives?


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