Councillors advised to close Skerries secondary and Olnafirth primary
Hayfield officials are advising councillors that they should vote to shut Skerries’ secondary department and Olnafirth Primary School.
The widely-expected recommendations are contained in a report following public consultations on whether to close the two schools. The pivotal vote takes place on 10th October.
In the case of Skerries, which has faced down numerous closure attempts, 60 per cent of written responses opposed closure, 25 per cent were in favour and 16 per cent “did not indicate an opinion”.
Councillors last week agreed to pause other proposals affecting secondaries so more research could be conducted.
That has left parents fighting against closure in Skerries furious with the SIC. Islander Ryan Arthur told this newspaper: “They’ve paused all the other closure processes while they start to consider alternatives that they dismissed when we proposed it here in Skerries.”
Asked why the consultation had not been halted until November, children’s services director Helen Budge said it was because the statutory consultation was “so far through the process”.
“Nobody has come forward with any kind of amendment or motion for that not to happen,” she said, “so our clear instruction from members is to continue…”
One option being investigated is transforming other isles secondaries to S1-S3 – allowing Whalsay to escape outright closure.
Although it won’t be an option open to Skerries parents, Mr Arthur said that – while he would prefer the status quo – “if it’s a choice between sending your bairns away at 11 or 15, then you’d choose 15.”
The consultation report states that those in favour of shutting Skerries cited the lack of peer interaction in such a small secondary, the quality of education available and the need to save money.
From his initial read of the 225-page report, Mr Arthur believes a report on the socio-economic impact of closure “strongly backs us up”.
It refers to the prospect of two families with children, and possibly more, leaving the islands. That would have a “severe impact” on the Skerries population and its economy – possibly reducing the viability of its primary school.
Mr Arthur feels passionately that the education department is conducting a “continued vendetta against the isle”.
“I can’t see any sensible reason why this is ploughing ahead. We’ve had the fire brigade pulled, they’ve halved the ferry service, the plane almost never comes here anymore. We are to Lerwick what Lerwick is to Scotland – they soon whine about it when Scotland takes something away from them.”
Education officials contend that, while Skerries pupils’ attainment outdoes that at the Anderson High School, “educating such small numbers of children together is not the best possible educational opportunity”.
Parents have suggested that the council should make savings in other areas such as senior management.
The report counters that £4.2 million has been cut from the schools budget – without shutting schools – since April 2012. It states: “[The children’s services department] cannot do much more without considering again how many schools it has.”
In the case of Olnafirth’s small primary, half of the 22 written consultation responses were opposed to closure. 27 per cent were in favour, with the remainder not expressing a clear view.
Again the SIC acknowledges the “very high quality of education” offered to pupils at Olnafirth. But officials believe Brae’s primary department, a few miles up the road from Voe, is “better placed to meet [pupils’] needs for group learning, working in teams, relating with… and communicating with others”.
Parents argued that “factual errors” meant the local authority was overestimating how much might be saved by shutting the primary. The council has clarified and revised its figures and is now actually estimate more money – £97,239 rather than £91,309 – will be saved each year.
After the consultations were published, parents and members of the public have three weeks to respond or lobby councillors before decision day.
More in tomorrow’s Shetland Times.