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.