SIC councillors are being asked to back a consultation on shutting Bressay Primary School following a drastic slump in pupil numbers.
Of 15 primary-aged children living in Bressay, only four attend school there. Hayfield officials point out that placing requests, almost all for Lerwick schools, have been coming from parents in the island “for a number of years”.
As recently as a decade ago, 40 children attended the school. Since last year, when there were 10 pupils at the schools, numbers have more than halved.
And despite the council’s policy of providing primary education in every inhabited island, the sliding pupil roll has resulted in children’s services director Helen Budge penning a report asking elected members to sanction a statutory closure consultation. It would begin on 23rd September.
Her report emphasises that, while there would be as-yet unspecified savings if Bressay did shut, the proposal “has not been influenced in any way by financial considerations”.
Parents in Bressay met SIC officials and councillors on 8th August to examine how the predicament had come about.
A summary of that meeting, written by community work officer June Porter, sets out how many Bressay residents believe the school’s perilous position is “symptomatic of a number of long-standing wider community issues”.
The lack of suitable housing and land to build new homes, restrictions posed by the ferry timetable and increasingly costly fares, the lack of childcare for working parents and the need for residents to access major services in Lerwick were all cited.
If those issues were addressed it “could be part of a package of measures which may make Bressay an attractive place” for young families to settle, in turn boosting the school roll.
But parents fear that if the school is closed, or even mothballed, it will never reopen.
Mrs Budge’s proposal would see Bressay shut its doors in July, with nursery and primary-age pupils all attending Bell’s Brae in Lerwick from August 2014. At last month’s meeting, parents again suggested that families with pupils going to Bell’s Brae and Sound (both with rolls of around 300) might be offered the option of sending their children to Bressay instead.
More in this week’s Shetland Times.