No joined-up thinking (Jeremy Sansom)

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”.

Jeremy Sansom
Aith Junior High School
Parent Council.


Add Your Comment
  • Lita Robinson

    • August 30th, 2012 14:00

    Well said Jeremy, I would like to ask – before the current council decided to put forward the proposed school closures, have any of them looked into the Scalloway closure. Can the SIC themselves produce any figures to show they did (are) actually save money by closing the school, I would doubt it.

  • Christopher Ritch

    • August 30th, 2012 16:28

    Similarly at Uyeasound – the primary school closure here was supposed to save almost 100,000 pounds. Transport costs to Baltasound were supposed to be about 4,000 pounds. What are the actual numbers? As Davie Sandison said yesterday – we need honest and accurate figures.

  • Stella Winks

    • August 31st, 2012 7:30

    Persuade SCT to invest in Shetland’s bairns instead of Viking Energy. Surely a better use of charitable trust funds instead of throwing money at a scheme that appears to be blatant carpet bagging with an immeasurable amount of destruction thrown in. Yes the education pot is one thjng and trust funds another but. . If education in rural areas needs propping up then it must be a good cause! Instead of passing huge sums to line the pockets of a chosen few – why not look after Shetland’s future – the education of our youngsters! Priorities are horribly wrong on these islands at the moment!

  • Johan Adamson

    • August 31st, 2012 9:08

    If you close a school, you still have the actual building and most of the teachers (some just retire) . You still have to feed the bairns etc, you still have Hayfield and its recharges of insurance, curriculum for excellence etc, so where are the savings? The minister who was up actually agreed and said there was little to be saved from shutting a school. So it doesnt make sense that he sanctioned the closure of Scalloway and Uyeasound either. He said there had to be an educational reason, what was it? Education dept are very blinkered and good at shifting the costs. I think they have a lot to do in 2 weeks! We need a vision for education and then work out how to get it, not knee jerk shutting of all the schools and then the grand plan.

  • John Fraser

    • August 31st, 2012 10:36

    I agree with the majority of the comments above. However to have a credible debate it is important to use information that is factual and evidenced based. AHS currently has a pupil population of 870 and the head teacher herself says that this is comfortable and manageable. Therefore Jeremy’s statement ‘a school that can barely cope with its present pupil numbers’ is incorrect. Sweeping inaccurate statements derived from a perhaps understandable desire to sensationalise an already emotive subject actually weakens the lobbyist’s position. So let’s stick to the facts folk.

  • Jim Anderson

    • September 4th, 2012 22:39

    “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.”

    £600k to bus 100 bairns, 5 days/week x 40 weeks/year would be £3,000 per day, or £750 each journey between Aith and Lerwick – amazing!

  • Christopher Ritch

    • September 5th, 2012 10:17

    What are the current transport costs to get the Westside pupils to school at Aith?

  • Kenny Gear

    • September 6th, 2012 4:14

    Why is the council so fixated on the education budget? Education should be the very last item to be considered in budget cuts; If the greedy, dispicable idiots who engineered the financial meltdown (and the response to it) in the first place had been properly educated this conversation probably wouldn’t be taking place. It is also clear that “headless chicken” syndrome prevails – determining the real net economic effect of proposed changes such as this is not rocket science. That there is ambiguity and an ongoing failure to measure the effectiveness of previous money “saving” schemes indicates that being seen to do something is presently more important than actual net savings. Of course a highly visible and deeply damaging cut like closing a remote junior high school fits that bill perfectly.

  • Sheila Tulloch

    • September 7th, 2012 14:06

    £750 would truly be amazing Mr Anderson, if indeed all the bairns would be bused from Aith! Lets start calling it the ‘Westide JH school’, as majority of the bairns will be coming from Walls, Skeld, Sandness and everything in between! How many feeder buses will be required to get them all to the main bus route? And at a time when the gritters are under review?
    So to the bigger picture, the proposed savings. Currently school bairns use the West Mainland Leisure Centre for all their PE, etc. If no secondary bairns will be using the place, so their income goes down, how long before the WMLC has to go to the council for a ‘bailout’, as they are not meeting their costs? I am sure if anyone thought the savings were actually going to be achieved, there would be no argument.


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