‘Traumatic uncertainty’ (Robert Sutherland)

Young couples with children, and couples thinking of starting a family, on the island of Whalsay, are faced with up to four years of traumatic uncertainty. All these young people see, last thing at night and first thing in the morning, the horrific prospect of their children being summarily taken from their care at 11 years of age and boarded at a hostel in Lerwick.

This is an extremely debilitating situation, yet the only explanation offered by the education and families committee is that it will save a certain amount of money, as yet unratified. The next four years will drag on and families will get more and more weary and dispirited.

In the old eleven-plus days, I went to the Janet Courtney hostel at the age of eleven. At that time there was a control exam which determined if a child could go on to further education. If passed, the child had the option of attending the Anderson Educational Institute. Children from all the remote parts of Shetland were boarded in the hostel.

An image which has stayed with me for over 54 years is of a young boy from one of the mainland areas. For days on end he cried non stop, hour after agonising hour, until his parents presumably relented and took him home to his local school. This is an option denied the parents of Whalsay children if this crazy “consultation” runs its convoluted course.

I beg the families section of the committee to ponder on the damage being done to the families involved in this process. I am now almost 66 years old, and have never seen this island in such despair. If this process is irreversible, then in God’s name let us have an answer now as to how the educational needs of the children of the next 20 generations in Whalsay will be enhanced by a move to a boarding school in Lerwick. I await an answer from the chair of the education and families committee.

Robert Sutherland


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