Aith Junior High School could close in 2014 under new council proposals

Shetland Islands Council has unveiled radical new plans to shut a raft of secondary departments and primary schools between now and 2016.

If councillors back the measures – part of the local authority’s efforts to address its deep-rooted financial crisis – it would see the doors of all but one of the islands’ junior highs shut in the next four years. That would leave the Anderson High School, Brae High School and Mid Yell Junior High as the only provi­ders of secondary education in Shetland.

The new plan, resulting from a request by the outgoing council in February for a “refresh” of the SIC’s blueprint for education, is to phase the closures over a three-year period. Five primary schools are also set to be placed under the threat of closure.

The council has not yet issued estimates of the annual savings it hopes to make by shutting each of the schools, but it is expected to do so in a more detailed report going before elected members at next Wednesday’s crunch education and families committee meeting. In total, Hayfield officials have been asked to identify £3 million-worth of spending cuts through the “refresh”.

Under the phased programme, put forward by children’s services director Helen Budge, consultations would commence on closing the secondary departments in Aith and Skerries next year. If those closures are approved, pupils will be transferred to the AHS in August 2014.

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Also forming part of the first phase, consultation on shutting Olnafirth Primary School – now set to be postponed until the Scottish government has published the find­ings of its Commission on Rural Education – could result in pupils moving to Brae in two years.

Phase two, with consultations to be staged in 2014, would see the focus shift to the North Isles. Balta­sound’s secondary department and Burravoe’s primary school, which was saved by the government’s intervention last year, could close with pupils transferred to Mid Yell for the 2015-16 school year.

Also earmarked for closure in the second tranche are the North Roe and Urafirth primaries. Those pupils would be shifted to Ollaberry.

The third and final phase would see secondary departments at Sandwick and Whalsay axed, with pupils being sent to the AHS after completing their primary education.

The latter consultations would take place in 2015, with pupils not being transferred until August 2016. That would, however, hinge on a new AHS being built and opened in four years, because the present building does not have the capacity to absorb all of the additional pupils.

Also pencilled in for the third phase is Sandness Primary School, which won the latest in a string of reprieves in 2011. The plan would be to move its pupils to the Happyhansel four years from now.

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Education and families committee chairwoman Vaila Wishart said people had been asking the council to produce a fresh plan for education for a long time. While she fully accepted many of the proposals will be unpopular, she said the SIC’s financial predicament means that finding big savings was essential.

“People have been asking for a plan for some considerable time. Here is the plan. It will be debated on Wednesday and councillors will be able to look at what’s being planned and decide whether they’re going to go along with it,” she told The Shetland Times.

Ms Wishart accepted that, if the new AHS cannot be opened in 2016, the council would “certainly have to think again, but at the moment this is the way we can see to make the budget cuts that are necessary while still providing the best possible education for young people.

“If you spread the resources too thinly you’ll end up with a system that doesn’t provide the breadth of curriculum for everyone, so the thinking is we can provide the curriculum best in this way.”

Mrs Budge said the intention was to retain a solitary junior high at Mid Yell because it was a new building only completed in October 2010. It would continue to provide education from S1 to S4.

She said: “I appreciate some folk might say that’s not equal provision, but the current financial position of the SIC means we’re not able to sustain the delivery of curriculum for excellence throughout our junior high school estate.”

The proposal to start with Aith, Mrs Budge continued, was partly related to pupil numbers. SIC officials believe Aith’s secondary pupil roll of just under 100 could be absorbed within the existing AHS buildings, whereas Sandwick’s larger roll would present a problem.

In addition, while Whalsay secondary pupils would require accommodation during the school week in Lerwick, the majority of Aith pupils could be bussed to the town each day, she added.

Aith Parent Council chairman Jeremy Sansom said parents had felt there had been a “cloud over the school for quite a while now”, but the proposed timing of the closure “seems preposterously close when issues around the new high school haven’t been resolved yet”.

It would mean the current AHS absorbing the Aith pupils for a minimum period of two years. But Mr Sansom belives it is already “quite a battle to get from class to class at the moment” at the Knab establishment.

He feels there is a broad consensus that a majority of West Side parents would oppose the closure of Aith. Mr Sansom’s personal view is that the council must be clear about its policy towards remoter areas.

He said: “This could have quite severe consequences for rural life in Shetland. Some would argue what we have is an unsustainable luxury. Others would argue there’s useful infrastructure in rural areas that could grow and accommodate a lot more people over the coming decades.

“Does the council want to let these areas fall into decline, or does it want to continue having a buoyant Shetland-wide, rather than Lerwick-centric, economy?”

Since the SIC began the blueprint for education exercise, it has pushed through the closure of Scalloway’s secondary department and Uyeasound’s primary school. That was before Scottish education minister Mike Russell announced a moratorium on closures while he set up a commission to examine rural education. Its findings are likely to be published early in 2013.

As part of a three-page document published yesterday, the SIC set out a brief “statement for education” for 2012-2017. It vows to provide primary education in all remote islands and to ensure that a primary school child “does not travel for more than 30 minutes in a single journey”. Secondary pupils will not have to face a journey of more than 55 minutes.


Add Your Comment
  • Ian McEwan

    • August 23rd, 2012 18:58

    Here we go again. The attack on the rural parts of the isles where communities need protecting to make them viable. With this attack on the youngsters of the smaller islands and Wetside the council is proposing new clearances o the kind Scotland are still haunted by.

    Not only is this an attack on the more endangered areas it is also show contempt for the safety of children and their education. No matter how much those in power use A Curriculum For Excellence as a cover all excuse they cannot say that busing kids over roads, like those between Aith and lerwick nor over ferries in winter will not be plagued by huge dangers, especially in winter but will impact massively upon these pupils learning. It is simply not justifiable on safety ground nor academic while the cost of providing extra accomodation and busing kids for hours on end will reduce any savings.


  • Ross Gazey

    • August 23rd, 2012 21:54

    So, here we go again, it saddens me beyond words to see that the councils only tactic to tackle its financial disaster is to close the whole if shetland outside of Lerwick.  I think it’s about time they re-named Helen’s teams plans for Shetlands education system as the blue print for incompetent disaster. My reading of the so-called community consultation has been underhand and devisive to say the least, with little comprehendable analysis of the net ‘benifit’ to shetland PLC. Perhaps Hellens team would care to enlighten us how, for example, children in Unst will attend the yell school if proposals for drastic cuts to the ferry service also go ahead in an attempt to shore up the last three councils miss administration.? Where is the socio-economic impact assessments, the true cost to the decimation of shetlands education system?  Rural schools play a vital role in developing the cumunity of today and tomorrow, but sadly the executive team at the SIC appear to have completely lost touch with life outside Lerwick and sadly believe Shetland starts at the sooth road inta lerwick and ends at the north road oot o it.

    I truly hope the elected members do the right thing by the non-Lerwick areas of Shetland and vote to keep the schools open and instead look to recoup the £30m or so litigation costs lost due to professional incompetence in the last council amongst other things.

    If they don’t it’s a sad day for Shetland and they may as well place the SIC into administration and let the scottish government have a go at running Shetlands finances as they couldn’t make much worse of a job of it in my humble opinion. 

    So I appeal to all the elected members to  do the right thing and keep Shetlands schools, as it is this that develops the entrepreneurs of tomorrow to trade Shetland PLC back to prosperity.

  • Johan Adamson

    • August 24th, 2012 9:53

    I think it is strange that it was too expensive to keep bairns in the hostel in the 1980s so the junior highs were promoted instead for o grade level. Now we will be going back to keeping bairns in the hostel who are further away than Bixter or Sandwick and they will go there at 12 not 14. Strange how bussing and hostels will be cheaper than keeping the schools when it wasnt before. If you shut schools like Sandness and Aith it will lead to further depopulation in these areas and less likelihood of any sort of industry being there. Plus these are good schools and Lerwick cant cope. Maybe Brae will cope better with bairns from the north (ah but these go to Lerwick too dont they?)

  • D Sandison

    • August 24th, 2012 12:15

    In my day bairns from the northern isles came to the AHS and stayed in the hostel from 12. If such schools like Baltasound JH are too expensive then they must close. At least this time they will be able to go home at night if they attend Mid Yell JH. I don’t envy them having to go on the ferries in the winter months but surely that’s just part of island life! Cuts are going to have to hard & deep for Shetland to survive.

  • Ross Gazey

    • August 24th, 2012 23:35

    If all of Shetlands rural schools are to expensive to run, do we really honestly believe that the cost of building a super-school (a new one in lerwick thats already cost around £7m with nothing on the balance sheet to show for it other than ‘professional fees’ and litigation) and commuting children the length and breadth of Shetland will continue to be cheaper in the long term? 
    With the greatest of respect D Sandison  since ‘your day’ at least 2 generations have worked tirelessly to make rural Shetland a better place since then to support development of a sustainable community, of which education plays a pivotal role.  

    Remove the schools – particularly the Junior highs – the community connection with future generations will collapse and with it the future confidence and prosperity of those affected areas.  

    So like I said before where are all Helen’s’ teams calculations and comminity consultations to show that in the long term these so-called blue prints for [no] education do represent any long term savings in a holistic manner, not just within the blinkered confines of the education budget? Last time rural shetland went through a fire fighting exercise with its own local authority over the subject of schools the sums were found incredibly wanting at best and I have little faith they’re any better this time.

    We are told Cuts have to be ‘hard and fast’, but the knife is falling everywhere much harder and faster than Lerwick as far as I can see just now. 

    Maybe Shetland could survive better if the tens of millions lost through professional incompetence in the past 5 years were pursued for recovery, and send the message that that level of highly paid un-educated nonsense is not tolerable instead of sweeping it quietly under the carpet and attacking rural Shetland with thcir sharpest knives in an attempt to claw back their losses.

    I truly hope our elected members understand the integral part the schools play in rural communities much better than Hellens teams shocking proposals and vote to retain the schools.

  • John Pedley

    • August 25th, 2012 10:00

    I do not believe it!! I am a retired teacher living in Aith who has actually taught in Aith Junior High School, the Anderson High School, Happyhansel and Sandness Primary Schools. However, no longer moving in such circles I had only heard rumours about the possible closure of Aith JHS – rumours which I had inwardly dismissed as too incredible to contemplate. Now, through your paper, I learn that they are not rumours but definite proposals, proposals which, in my not too unqualified opinion, are about to squander Shetland’s educational heritage (to use a “mot du jour”).

    The Shetland JH Schools, because of their close integration with their associated primary schools not to mention leisure centres, have a unique educational environment and ethos which can best be described as a large family. The children from the feeder primaries do not benefit to the same extent but at least their links with a local secondary school are more tangible than with the remote AHS.

    Aith, being a reasonably new school and in conjunction with the adjoining leisure centre, is well resourced and a very pleasant, happy environment. Are the parents expected to sacrifice this for a school which should have been replaced well over ten years ago? I also ask the question – will the new AHS be really ready for 2016?

    Then there is the question of transporting pupils. Sandness to the AHS in a school bus in less than fifty five minutes during the rush hour and with acces to the school being what it is!? I think not. I also ask the question – is it fair to expect pupils to spend two unproductive hours a day travelling when the time could be better spent doing homework? Finally, under this topic, there is always the increased risk that additional travel incurs, especially in Winter and with the deteriorating weather patterns that we are experiencing.

    Finally there is the question of the effect on the community. The schools have just re-opened after the Summer holidays. I may be a sentimental oldie, but I was quite moved to hear the sound of children playing in the playground again after some six weeks of silence. On a personal note, many years ago, my wife and I considered a teaching post in Orkney but we decided against it because we realised how far from home our own children would have to travel when they reached secondary school age. How many more families are likely to be discouraged from moving to the rural areas not to mention leaving them because of this factor?

    It is well known that Shetland’s educational results are to be envied and all credit to the teaching staff at the AHS and Brae HS for that. But could not a portion of that success be attributed the excellent grounding our pupils receive within our current primary and JHS system? I am well aware that the council has to make huge savings but am very saddened that Shetland’s crown jewels are being threatened as a result of previous wanton profligacy. Surely they should be protected at all cost.

  • Johan Adamson

    • August 27th, 2012 9:10

    I think there is a real question over the savings this will make. We have to educate and feed our children. I can see how if numbers drop under a certain amount – say 5 -then it becomes expensive to run a rural school. But where a teacher is fully employed at all times in the school and other teachers brought in for necessary hours, then where are the savings in moving to a larger school? Surely a certain amount of bairns need a teacher where ever they are and we still need to feed them. And like last time there will be no redundancies amongst teachers therefore they will all move to Lerwick. How can there be any savings in that? I would like to question the savings in the education budget in shutting Scalloway secondary. I am certain that they have not been what they said. Are you not just moving the problem (again) and you just have to accept that education here is expensive? As long as the central costs which are recharged to these rural schools are cut to the minimum that is (the central costs which will still be there after these schools are shut) I’ll assume.

  • Harry Dent

    • August 27th, 2012 10:00

    It’s not only the young who will suffer.

    As my retirement appears on the distant horizon, these proposals scare the life out of me.

    I don’t want to spend my dotage in a community where a lack of schools has forced out all the young people, and where a declining population makes the leisure centres, post offices, bus routes, and shops “uneconomic”.

  • Christopher Ritch

    • August 27th, 2012 13:34

    Johan Adamson is right to question the savings which might be gained by closing schools. In the proposal paper for Uyeasound Primary School

    we can see that savings of 215,182 pounds were to be gained by closing Uyeasound School, and transport costs to put the bairns to Baltasound of 4180 pounds.

    Here we have a school which has already been closed, and a perfect opportunity to examine the accuracy of the Council’s arithmetic.

  • Stewart Mack

    • August 28th, 2012 10:20

    Personally, having grown up in rural Shetland and avoided the AHS until 5th year i read with horror the proposals to decimate the Shetland education system currently in place.

    Being a realist however i think we all need to make alternative suggestions to cut costs to the required level – If you look at the biggest areas of expenditure in the Council budgets -Education and ferries are right up there. We hear all the time that any cuts to the ferries will decimate isalnd life, or that closing schools will kill rural communities but honestly – whats the choices? – To do nothing is simply not an option – Sure it will work for a year or 2, but at the rate the SIC are barrelling through the oil reserves they will soon be depleated (less than 5yrs at current spending i’m told?) So we cant carry on as we are, and it seems we cant make cuts. Bear in mind if/when the oil money runs out there will be no choice, schools will close, ferries will be cut and public building close – not top mention the effect on capital projects etc.
    So, come on Shetland, if you want to save your schools, as i believe should be a priority, we need to identify other areas where the budgets can be cut to compensate for the school being kept open. Staff costs are a biggie in the budget, but cutting jobs affects the economy too – So whats the answer? – Who knows, but doing nothing certainly isnt it!

  • ian tinkler

    • August 28th, 2012 11:27

    Food for thought? Why are our leaders considering the closure of great and successful community schools all around Shetland? Aith junior high being a typical example. Not only will the heart be cut out of the Aith community but an already overcrowded school, Anderson High will be overloaded to breakdown point. Perish the thought, could this be a political ploy for yet another prestige project based in Lerwick, “The New Anderson”? Another jewel in the crown of the Lerwick empire builders at the cost of the rural community? Just food for thought from a cynic.


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