It is clear that some individuals within the current educational department at Hayfield House are in need of further education. Their misrepresentation of the Curriculum for Excellence clearly illustrates their misunderstanding.
Their new educational plan is to travel back in time and have all children travel excessive distances to attend one of only two high schools for all of Shetland. As part of the process for school closures, as outlined by the Scottish government, the council must have examined three factors prior to deciding to propose and consult on a rural school closure.
These three factors are:
• any viable alternative to closure;
• the likely effect on the local community if the school were to close;
• the likely effect of different travelling arrangements occasioned by the closure.
The process is also supposed to be coherent, open and transparent to ensure public confidence (The Scottish Government, 2011).
The so-called idea for two schools is archaic; the idea that commuting pupils from all over Shetland is a good idea in any way, shape or form is barbaric. Looking at the bigger picture, that evidently Hayfield House has neglected to take account, these basic factors have yet to be openly examined.
Firstly what are the alternatives?
I have a suggestion. Scrap the plans for a new Anderson High school as it is not really required; a basic refit to a couple of classrooms would allow both the room to utilised as a classroom and a dining room. That way around 60 million pounds could be saved on a building that is not required. Additionally the reorganisation of the catchment area for the Anderson High School would increase the number of children who will be able to go to the Scalloway High School.
Instead of closing the existing junior high schools, they should indeed be updated to full high schools, offering highers to pupils. In fifth and sixth year all pupils could have access to the same subject, utilising interactive technology to participate in classes located elsewhere in Shetland.
It would also help pupils transition between school and higher education, making them more successful learners and effective contributors, an underlying principle of the Curriculum for Excellence.
Schools across the country have been annexed, meaning simply that several schools have been run by the same head teacher. A simple saving would be to remove unrequired head teachers; annex all the schools in Shetland removing all head teachers located within the schools, and retain only a few to provide a central hub for policy writing and budget management within schools, leaving deputy heads with the general day-to-day tasks such as discipline and timetabling.
Removing 30 posts – devolved management, retaining three to devise policy and procedures for all schools, along with staffing and budgeting, ensuring equality across all schools, saving an estimated £1,260,000 to £2,400,000 depending on the salary scale of the head teacher.
Secondly, what is the likely effect on the local community if the school were to close? What research has been conducted in what will the effect be?
From a purely historical standpoint closure of rural schools over 50 years ago resulted in mass movement toward the schools that remained open; you look at the communities that have lost their schools 50 years ago and there is now only a handful of houses left surrounding them.
Granted this evidence is purely observational and would likely have included other factors. However, if your local school was closed and your children were forced to commute vast distances and it was effecting their performance at school, how many parents would remain in the community?
Thirdly, consider the likely effect of different travelling arrangements occasioned by the closure.
The cost is at the forefront of this debate, with continued fuel prices rising, is commuting hundreds of school children across Shetland the best way forward? What will be the cost in the next 10 years?
Putting aside the cost what about the environmental impact? Not least of all the children’s health and wellbeing from spending excessive amounts of time on buses. These factors all need to be addressed prior to even consulting on proposed closures.
Centralisation of services can indeed save money, however at what cost to the future generation and rural communities? Perhaps it is time that the Shetland Charitable Trust helps to save our schools and preserve rural life and make a real contribution to all rural communities in Shetland.
Indeed if the council feels that centralisation is an option then would it not be more apt to centralise and streamline one of the council’s largest expenditures, namely social care.
I am prepared to make a stand. It is clear from the outset the council is not following the Schools Consultation Scotland Act 2010. If this was the case, then the first step would be to look at alternatives to closure. I think the council needs to re-think the laughable proposal to shut all junior high schools and remote primary schools.
If you have any suggestions why not join safe our rural Shetland schools page on Facebook.