As very worried parents of pupils coming up through the Whalsay school, we want to express our grave concerns regarding the proposed closure of the secondary school, meaning that the children have to commute daily to and from the Mainland.
We wonder how the council decision makers would feel doing the daily commute, especially in winter, and how therefore they expect our bairns to cope with it?
As things stand at the moment the school day would become at best a 10-hour day, having to leave their homes at 7.30am to get the 7.50am ferry out, and getting home on the 5pm ferry to arrive home between 5.30pm and 6pm depending on the weather, and whether or not the ferry is running from Laxo or Vidlin which throws up a host of other capacity issues, both on the ferries and at the terminals.
We are already enduring uncertainty about ferry limitations and issues. How is the service going to cope with children being transported at peak times?
Do we leave our increased number of commuting workers, and members of the public standing on the pier? What happens in bad weather when the service is suspended? Whose responsibility is it to look after our bairns? The school?
Where are they to be accommodated? Is the hostel in Lerwick still on the table as a possible option? Can a houseparent give the same level of love, care, guidance, discipline, mentoring, coaxing, instil family and community values, share family jokes, pass on skills, nurture talent, bond with a child to the same extent as can be done at home?
Surely the Curriculum for Excellence has a strong emphasis on citizenship and community, all of which is being stripped away if children spend the vast majority of their time with their peers instead of with family, extended family, friends of the family, wider members of the community – which traditionally has shaped and influenced young folk. This is what makes culture and identity, something that should be valued and not lost.
This whole proposal we as parents feel is utter madness. If this goes ahead our children’s education and quality of life will be severely impaired. If they are expected to commute the children will be tired, sometimes sick from the crossing.
They will not have the time and energy for after school activities, and sport and consequently their health will suffer. The sports clubs will suffer which is a proud island tradition, the leisure centre will suffer, the list goes on. This goes against all the time and effort that has been made to promote healthy living and fitness in our children, again a key strand of Curriculum for Excellence.
Time spent travelling will also impact on time that they could be out in the sun, which is another thing parents are being told to encourage bairns to get enough vitamin D, particularly in the north where there is a shortage of sunlight anyway.
This is a very uncertain time to be an isles resident in Shetland with all the proposed cuts to vital services. We have a good secondary school with good teachers, and get good results. Our bairns get a good start in life with the school that they have. Please don’t take that away. It would be one more nail in the rural communities’ coffin.
We appreciate times are hard and savings need to be made but surely there has to be a better alternative than jeopardising the educational, and developmental needs of our young people. They are Shetland’s future.
Louise and John Anderson
Kathleen and Roger Irvine
(with support from extended family members)