Aith and Sandwick school closure consultations delayed

Consultations on whether to shut secondary departments in Aith and Sandwick are to be delayed.

Councillors will now make a decision on proposals to introduce an S1-S3 model in Unst, Whalsay and Yell before attention turns to the two Mainland schools.

It comes amid growing dis­con­tent among parents and numerous SIC councillors about Hayfield House’s handling of changes to the much-maligned blueprint for education this summer.

During a public meeting at the Carnegie Hall on Wednesday, Sand­wick Parent Council chairwoman Emilie Gray described the council’s approach as “shambolic”.

SIC children’s services director Helen Budge contacted this news­paper yesterday to say her depart­ment “wishes to clarify that con­sultation on the proposed closures of Aith and Sandwick secondary departments will not commence until after” the education and fam­ilies committee meets early next month.

In response to that, Ms Gray said: “While the constant changes of direction from the education department are confusing and frustrating for Shetland residents in respect of proposed school closures, it would be welcome news if [it has] decided to delay consultations on Aith and Sandwick.”

Last month the education de­partment tabled a document which would see pupils taught in the three biggest islands until the end of S3, before transferring to the Anderson High School. If councillors approve that it will remove the threat of closure from Whalsay.

That prompted parents in the Westside and South Mainland to complain of perceived double standards. There have been calls for the same S1-S3 option to be ex­plored, as an alternative to outright closure, for secondaries in those areas too.

Ms Gray said she hoped the implications of such a model for rural schools “throughout Shetland” would now be considered, and that the council would “think more broadly and creatively about how secondary education is delivered”.

Mrs Budge said that the Aith and Sandwick consultations had been due to commence “in 2013”, but did not specify a date. Parents and several councillors appear to have been told previously that the consultations would begin in late August.

The “Blueprint for Education: The Next Steps” report had been due to go before councillors on 7th August. But that was delayed by four weeks following an inter­vention by teaching unions.

Education and families commit­tee vice-chairman George Smith said yesterday that “a significant number” of councillors had signed a motion designed to delay the start of consultations until after the committee’s 11th September meeting.

South Mainland member Billy Fox said the number of signatures was “in double figures”. He felt the education department was “putting the cart before the horse” and it would be wrong to proceed with consultations “when there is a material change” to be considered.

Mr Smith said he still intended to table the motion, which has to be lodged by 5pm today in order to be considered by the full council on 28th August, unless he receives written assurances from Hayfield before then.

It is far from clear whether parents, particularly those whose children attend Sandwick, would desire an S1-S3 set up.

Mr Smith, one of the three South Mainland members, said he expec­ted that would be debated at next month’s education meeting and he was “still keen to hear from parents in terms of what their views are on it”.

“There are many different views about transitions and so on,” he said. “All this motion is seeking to do… is not start the consultation before there’s an opportunity to have that debate.

“This is a response to a request from the two parent councils [in Aith and Sandwick] to say ‘let’s treat all the schools in the same way, and if you’re proposing changes to the blueprint, allow our schools to be considered within it’.”

More in today’s Shetland Times.


Add Your Comment
  • Ian McEwan

    • August 16th, 2013 11:28

    This council is inept. This entire issue has been mired by indecision, bungling from one idea or crisis to the next. THe uncertainty this is causing parents and communities is unbearable. And yet the headless chickens go on.

    Listen to those people who pay for Shetland Council and make a decision which reflects their views and see it through for once.

    This is going on and on and on and on and it is time, communities in the isles were shown more respect than they have been and that kids and families are put first for once.

  • John K Smith

    • August 16th, 2013 15:28

    It is clear and always has been, that Shetland needs a fair and consistent model to deal with ALL Shetland schools in the same way, and in a good way for the children.
    Closing any rural school that is well populated, immensely successful and at the centre of it’s community is unjust, contradictory and destructive.

    Parents and children cannot help but look at this week’s headlines detailing the massive price increases for the replacement Lerwick high school. The new school will have a bad name even before a sod is turned on the proposed Clickimin site. The error reported on getting the size wrong and what is “like-for-like” is unconscionable and that this error has lead to unbelievable extra tax-payer funding is beyond belief.
    Parents and children will only conclude that the new school and all these extra costs are the PRIMARY CAUSE of the suggestions that successful, well attended and community focused rural schools should close.

    The new Lerwick school proposal has been called empire building, a white elephant and sacred cow; those responsible have been called headless chickens and I believe the whole education debate in the SIC has been a clear case of The Emperor’s New Clothes. That is until today, or yesterday, when a substantial number of Councillors led a protest against it all.

    Now parents, children and anyone in those rural communities affected should support those forward thinking Councillors, all should write to Tavish Scott, to Alistair Carmichael, Helen Budge, Malcolm Bell, their own Councillors and especially those brave people who exposed The Emperor’s New Clothes and this big mess. Mrs Budge should realise that there is another way and that she doesn’t have to decide everything on her own; Teachers, Parents, Children, George Smith, Billy Fox and “a significant number” of councillors will all help find a better way, a way fair to all.

  • John Anderson

    • August 16th, 2013 16:25

    This is a confusing article. On the one hand, the parent council calls the process ‘shambolic’, in the next breath they welcome more delay. Previously they had wanted to bring consultation forward. The education dept can’t win – they are forced to delay consultation by councillors but councillors don’t seem to have any idea what they want. they just keep complaining, poor dears, that they are being forced to make decisions they don’t like. All these delays cost money because until we make serious savings the reserves keep depleting. Teachers and schools are what are costing us most, yet we are scraping savings from care workers rotas. Looks like these 2 south mainland councillors can’t stomach making decisions, and you can smell the horse-trading going on. I think we’re going to waste all this time, money and strife and yet again our council will end up looking inept and financially incapable. For once, could our elected members not just get on with it?

  • Emilie Gray

    • August 16th, 2013 19:41

    I understand your confusion John Anderson. We are in the difficult position of trying to minimise years of uncertainty by asking for the consultation to happen in 2013, whilst finding it imperative that there is fairness and equity in the decisions being made. That is why we sought a delay until after the September meeting. There are no winners in this. We all feel uncomfortable finding our way through the politics to get the best outcome for our young people.

  • John Anderson

    • August 19th, 2013 8:19

    We are indeed in a position where everyone loses, since we need to make serious cuts, quickly, because of the indecision of previous councils. If we sort out the budget, everyone wins, because we don’t see our reserves, and thence services, go completely down the pan.

    Yes, the cuts should be fair and equitable, so we should all lose – except there should be extra protection for the poor and vulnerable.

    What has previously happened is that whoever shouted loudest – and that has been lobbyists for rural schools – escaped the cuts.

    Ironically, closing a school is one cut that need not reduce the quality of service to pupils. It can, indeed improve that service. At the very least a good education will be maintained.

    Not so with other cuts – community care, transport for example – where the level of service must fall, and can mean serious problems for users, and knock-on effects to the rest of the population. Education, as I understand it, is also dealing with across-the-board cuts which mean there is a lot less to spend on education for everyone.

    But still, closing a school is seen as an abomination, a step too far. This is illogical and unfair. There should be no holy grails in making these very difficult cuts. There should be fairness, and equity, and rationality, and logic. Councillors need to stop running scared and face up to the situation we are in.


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