School pupils in Yell, Unst and Whalsay could continue receiving secondary education until the end of S3 before transferring to the Anderson High under revised SIC proposals.
The new idea will be considered by councillors at next month’s education and families committee meeting. It has already been welcomed in Whalsay, which had faced the possibility of losing its secondary department altogether.
However, unpopular plans to shut secondaries in Aith and Sandwick remain set to go to consultation, while Skerries’s small three-pupil secondary is facing imminent threat of closure.
Whalsay Parent Council chairman Pete Gaines said most parents in the island were “pleased” that, should the fresh plan be agreed, their children would only be sent to Lerwick aged 14 or 15, rather than 11 or 12.
Islanders had been lobbying for the status quo at Symbister, but it “became clear that wasn’t going to happen”.
“I understand that not everybody in Whalsay will be happy with that scenario,” Mr Gaines told this newspaper, “but it’s the best we’re going to get, I believe. 14 is an easier age, and we think they’d be ready for that.”
Councillors will decide whether to adopt Hayfield’s revised plan on 7th August, and Mr Gaines said “the word we’re getting back is it’s likely to go through”.
“Then it will go to consultation after that and we’ll get islanders’ opinion,” he said. “From the information I’m getting so far, the majority [of parents] are happy with the offer.”
If approved, the change of tack will have wider consequences: it raises the fresh prospect of changes in Mid Yell and Baltasound, which had been spared the threat of closure in a “refreshed” blueprint for education document agreed following last year’s council elections.
It is also thought likely that parents of secondary pupils attending closure-threatened schools on the West Side and in the South Mainland will push for a similar rethink.
The SIC still intends to press ahead with consultations on shutting secondary departments at Aith and Sandwick, transferring the pupils to the Anderson High School when they finish primary school. Construction of a new school in Lerwick is due to get underway in the first half of 2014.
Mr Gaines said he thought it was probable Aith and Sandwick would now campaign to keep their departments open from S1 to S3. He added Whalsay parents “are still supporting them, and will actively support them”.
Council convener Malcolm Bell told The Shetland Times the appetite to reconsider certain closure proposals demonstrated that “we are listening, we are taking into account what people are saying”.
While it would be better to have “no transition at all”, moving pupils at the end of S3 is seen as attractive because it fits in with nationwide alterations to how secondary education is delivered under the Curriculum for Excellence.
“We’re trying to find something that fits our very particular circumstances in terms of geography, trying to balance that with the need to deliver as high-quality as we can,” Mr Bell said.
Asked whether the same treatment ought to apply to the two mainland secondaries facing closure, Mr Bell replied: “No doubt that will come up at the committee. This is the islands – we have to try and accommodate people’s fears about very young children travelling on ferries or living in hostels.
“We have to change the style or means of delivery for a whole host of reasons. But at the same time we want to listen and take into account what people are saying, if we can tweak things to find a balance.”