I find it difficult to grasp the rationale behind the proposed closure of Aith Junior High School and the dismantling of the junior high school system.
It was with incredulity that nearly 250 people met in the Aith Hall on Monday night to share their concerns about the proposals. I believe that parents in rural Shetland have not fully taken on board the concept of the Blueprint for Education because it is simply so absurd. It has just created a dark cloud of anxiety, concern and, yes, even suspicion over the rural areas of Shetland.
Initially the BfE was foist on us as an attempt to rationalise the educational structure to enable cost-effective delivery of the “new” Curriculum for Excellence. It was marketed as a device to improve educational outcomes throughout Shetland. Although financial savings were expected to be made, it was, in the famous words of one of our former illustrious leaders: “Education! Education! Education!” At least now some honesty prevails, as the education department has finally acknowledged that it is, purely and simply, a cost-cutting exercise.
The Refresh the BfE Report before the council on Wednesday was so flawed that I am surprised it was only deferred for a couple of weeks for more detailed information to be provided. Like the consultation document that preceded it, it was worthy of shredding.
Educationally it lacks sense and credibility. It purports to “maintain and in some cases improve the educational benefits for learners throughout Shetland”. How will bussing 11 to 12-year-old children two hours a day from one of the best performing schools in Scotland to a school that can barely cope with its present pupil numbers enhance their educational experience? After 25 years in the pipeline the new Anderson High School is … oh, of course, it isn’t!
Financially it doesn’t make sense and could be accused of being deliberately misleading. Savings for the closure of the Aith JH department are given as £690,000. The savings per pupil can be no more than £4,000 (the current difference between educating a child at Aith and the AHS respectively). The maximum savings therefore can only be £400,000 (100 Aith JHS pupils x £4,000). But it will be more expensive to educate an Aith bairn in Lerwick because of the substantial travel costs.
So where does this figure of £690,000 come from? The real annual cost of transporting the Aith pupils to Lerwick have been reliably estimated at c. £600,000. My rusty schoolboy arithmetic tells me then that this proposal will actually add something in the order of at least £200,000 to the present education budget. And this is before myriad “minor” details have been factored in.
Oh, but silly me. Of course it won’t – the transport costs are paid out of the transport budget, not out of the education one.
One of the strong points that emerged from our meeting on Monday night is the lack of joined-up thinking within the council. This is one prime example. If the council is to save money, it can’t just streamline one department to make it viable by shoving unwelcome costs on to the budget of another. Is it any wonder that every move by the education department smacks of subterfuge to us poor hapless parents?
I believe there are still very real savings to be made within the cumbersome council structure long before it dismantles its very successful rural infrastructure – schools, care provision, sports facilities, transport network – arguably one of the best in Scotland.
The Aith school community would want to be creatively involved in any serious proposals to enhance the delivery of education Shetland-wide, but we believe these present proposals are totally inadequate. Could we please have real evidence of joined-up thinking within the council before measures to close our school are discussed?
Incidentally, my dictionary defines “consultation” as: “asking others for their views and involving them openly in decision-making”.
Aith Junior High School