The idea behind the Refreshed Blueprint for Education is that the mass-proposal to close 11 schools is voted through and then individual school closures are discussed a few at a time for the next three years. There are two basic problems with this.
Firstly, it condemns hundreds of pupils and scores of teachers to years of uncertainty. How will morale be maintained in the intervening years? How will schools retain staff and attract new pupils and staff? After all, the pupils still need to be taught in these schools.
Secondly, such a drastic step needs to be based on a credible document with sound foundations. We can only speak from our local knowledge – from the Unst perspective, this document is riddled with problems. A couple of examples:
1. The document says that Unst pupils will be ferried from Hamars Ness on the 7.50am ferry to Yell and the maximum journey time will be 75 minutes. But to get a 7.50am ferry Baltasound pupils would leave the house at 7.30am and school doesn’t start until 9.05am. That’s 95 minutes from leaving home to starting school – more for pupils in North Unst. (And Hamars Ness is in Fetlar, not Unst.)
2. The savings from Uyeasound are exaggerated by a factor of almost 100 per cent – and not for the first time. Paragraph 4.3.9 claims recurrent savings of £209k – but Uyeasound only cost £140k to run and the school building hasn’t been sold. How reliable does this make the other figures?
In general, we are receiving contradictory messages from the council. The ferry review tells us that ferries will become more expensive, less frequent and less reliable as they age – we should stop regarding them as just a road extension. But the education review tells us that a twice-daily ferrying of pupils will be quick, reliable and frequent enough to allow for after-school clubs etc. They simply both can’t be true.
Finally, in more than 50 pages of text, something which we regard as very important simply isn’t mentioned. In order to justify the closure of Uyeasound school at Christmas, the council told the Scottish government last year: “By closing Uyeasound Primary School children from the Uyeasound catchment area would be able to attend the same school (Baltasound Junior High School) from age three to age 16.”
In two years’ time, when it is Baltasound’s turn for the consultation, the ferries and buses won’t be any quicker than they are now and the school will inevitably have lost morale, pupils and teachers. So what’s to be gained by that?
Most frustrating of all, we do understand the financial situation and have tried to engage with Hayfield House about savings – but we have never got any further than the single mantra of close/close/close.
The birth rate here in Unst is rising; tourism is thriving; community life is strong. The parent council looks forward to one day writing a cheerful letter about our cost-effective, successful school.
Baltasound Junior High School Parent Council