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.