Not enough imagination over education cuts: Sansom

New government figures show the SIC’s spending per head on secondary pupils was more than double the Scottish average a year ago.

In 2011/12, the local authority – which last year unveiled plans to shut secondaries in Aith, Sandwick, Skerries and Whalsay – spent £12,826 for every secondary pupil. That is more than £3,000 more per pupil above the next highest spender, the Western Isles. The Scottish average was £6,321.

The council’s main explanation is that “almost all of our secondary schools are very small and employ full time specialist staff who do not always have a full timetable”.

In primary education, where proposals have been tabled to shut five small schools, Shetland spent £8,238 per pupil. That is over £500 less than the Western Isles and only marginally above Orkney’s costs, but again much higher than the nationwide average of £4,792 per pupil.

Although it comes at considerable expense, Scottish Government data shows Shetland pupils benefit from excellent-quality education. More adults – 93 per cent – are “satisfied” with the schools in their area than anywhere else in the country.

Educational achievement is high too: 52 per cent of pupils gain five or more level five, or “intermediate”, grades. Only East Renfrewshire performs better. Shetland is joint 13th out of 32 local authorities when it comes to highers – 26 per cent of pupils attained five or more level six grades in 2011/12.

The council’s unpopular blueprint for education proposals are designed to save £3.25 million from its £41 million education budget.

Jeremy Sansom of the Parent Council Group, which is fighting against the closures, believes insufficient attention has been paid to “imaginative and creative” money-saving solutions it tabled earlier this year.

A document submitted to Hayfield House in January suggested making greater use of technology, cutting the cost of managing schools and gradually reducing the number of teachers.

Mr Sansom said the group remained in dialogue with schools officials and is due to meet again next week. But he feels its proposals are “not really being given the space we’d like [them] to have”.

“We’re asking for time to look at a broad strategy for education in Shetland,” he said. “We want to know where we’re going to be in 2025. There’s no vision – the vision is: close the schools.”

Meanwhile, over 100 people turned out in Aith Hall on Wednesday in the latest step to “galvanise folk into action” against the proposal to shut its junior high department.

Formal consultations on shutting Skerries’ secondary and Olnafirth’s primary are now taking place. Aith’s turn will come in the autumn.

A video recording of a pre-Christmas bus trip designed to help councillors understand how long West Side children would have to spend travelling to and from Lerwick was screened during the meeting.

Mr Sansom said: “That began at the beginning of the meeting, and an hour and a half later when we ended it was still playing. Several people said it was quite nauseous seeing this going on in the background while folk were talking.”

He said Aith parents felt closure was a “ridiculous notion”. Their chief objection is to the “unacceptably” lengthy journey time pupils as young as 11 might face, along with the impact on the wider community.

“People are very aware that it is a very vibrant community, and losing the school will severely jeopardise that vibrancy,” Mr Sansom said.


Add Your Comment
  • Johan Adamson

    • June 6th, 2013 15:18

    Its getting a bit boring isnt it. Lets close the same old schools, for the same old reasons. You are right Jeremy. There is no vision, just that Lerwick is the centre of the universe. Lets have a junior high in Lerwick (no one thinks about the Lerwick bairns in all of this at all) where they can also have the high standard of education enjoyed by country bairns. Junior Highs are a better model for the C of Excellence anyway. Anyone doing further education can go to the college. Share the teachers and heads between the junior highs. Everyone knows it is the staff costs which makes our education more expensive, so deal with it in a straight forward, honest way. Come out and say you are making teachers redundant. You dont have to close school by school to achieve this. And please pay more than lip service to any good ideas which may get in the way of your ancient and dusty no win for anyone plan.

  • Emilie Gray

    • June 6th, 2013 20:36

    Well said Jeremy. The risks associated with the Blueprint for Education are too high for Shetland’s public to ignore. It’s too ‘easy’ to close schools in a piecemeal approach – such actions need serious and detailed investigation, looking at the impact across Shetland, before ploughing ahead with individual consultations. What will happen to the 12-year old from Whalsay who can’t bear to board away from home all week? What will the options be for his/her family? What about young people from Walls or Virkie who don’t thrive is one of the top 11% of largest schools in Scotland? Where will they go for their education?

    The delivery of education in Scotland is likely to look very different in 10 years’ time, with the introduction of new and developing technologies. Why aren’t we seizing the opportunity to explore and utilise this? Where is the strategic view? Where are the council’s creative thinkers? Yes this approach may save some money, but what legacy are we leaving behind for future generations? We should be seeing trials using new technologies to link learning in different schools; assessing management structures across several sites; essentially looking at innovative and different ways of delivering secondary education rather than chopping bits out of the existing structure.

    Why do councillors and SIC officers seem to think the time for looking at the long-term future of education isn’t right now? With the changes in secondary qualifications and uncertainty over subject choice, it is surely the opportune moment. This could and should be an exciting and creative time to look at education in Shetland. Please use your imaginations!

  • M Thomason

    • June 7th, 2013 15:02

    I’m not sure how useful it is to have ‘cost per pupil’ comparisons. It depends on school rolls in any given year, so is only a snapshot of costs for that year.

    I wish people would stop comparing us to Orkney. Shetland is unique in both our geography and our climate. Get out a map and look at Orkney, the geography lends itself more readily to having fewer schools.

    Education at the point of delivery is always going to cost more in island groups than on the mainland of Scotland. Also, what percentage of school children are taught in private schools which are not state funded?

    Apart from anything else the thing that annoys me most is the lack of consideration for the pupils if school closures go ahead. Bairns from the Wastside will be enduring nightmare journeys, and please remember that travel times are from when the child leaves their own house NOT from when the bus leaves the pick-up point. There has been no thought as to how this will affect number of transitions eg my neice will have a year at Aith JH, a year at the old Anderson High then on to the new AHS. If they had to review the junior highs then why oh why did they not WAIT until the new AHS was built???

  • John Tulloch

    • June 7th, 2013 16:06

    Mr Thomason is 100 % right. The Western Isles are also often used for comparison yet there are far fewer inhabited islands than in Shetland and in the Uist Islands group, for example, there are five islands connected by causeways so the farthest anyone has to travel is about 25 miles by road.

    We need to compare “apples with apples.”


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