A pressure group against the closure of Aith Junior High School claims to have been denied a public meeting in the West Side to examine the future of secondary education.
An online protest group, Aith Action, says a request to children’s services director Helen Budge for an open meeting in their area was turned down.
The group, which runs a Facebook page with over 400 “likes”, has instead hired transport to take as many supporters as possible to tonight’s public meeting at the Anderson High School in Lerwick.
Aith Junior High was earmarked for possible closure as part of the so-called “blueprint” proposal which would have dramatically altered secondary education provision in the isles.
However last month SIC councillors stepped back from implementing the controversial proposals, aimed at slashing nearly £3.3 million from its education budget by shutting a number of schools between now and 2017.
Instead the authority launched an intensive series of consultation meetings with parents and communities considering five separate options concerning school provision.
But the apparent denial of a public meeting in the West Side has angered parents in Aith, who have campaigned to have the school kept open.
Chairman of the school’s parent council, Jeremy Sansom, said it was important for West Side parents to have their say.
He accused the school’s service of making a “weighted attempt” to limit the number of people attending the meeting from rural areas.
“It just seemed to us a bit galling that the public meetings were in places – Brae and Lerwick, where neither of the schools were threatened – on a Tuesday night where many of the people that would like to be at those meetings would have young children and frankly find it difficult to get.
“We know that the Sound parent council, probably the Bell’s Brae as well, have put out letters to their parents requesting a good turn out at the meeting tonight so they can influence the decision which, for them, would be option 1 – which is closure of the junior high schools.
“It’s hard at short notice to down tools and get everybody into a public meeting.
“I appreciate that this is a broader look at education as a whole, so the Lerwick ones and the Brae ones need to be informed, but there just seemed to be – to us – a kind of weighted attempt to minimise the proportion of folk at these meetings from the outlying areas.”
Mr Sansom said it was important for West Side people to “engage” with Lerwick parents.
“We believe the Lerwick parents have been drip-fed a diet of misinformation over a long time-period now. Most of them are absolutely adamant that the junior high schools are eating up all the resources.”
He also highlighted a parent council/community council meeting in the Aith school tomorrow night, which has been extended to include parents of school children from throughout the area.
Mrs Budge insisted much was done to ensure communities could respond to the consultation.
“Yes, we had received a request for a public meeting in the West Side. We had decided, previous to that request, that we would have two public meetings and that we would have a number of meetings in communities.
“The meetings in the communities would be for parent councils – who represent parent forums – and for community councils.
“We felt we were covering the community aspect through those meetings. The two public meetings we decided to have in Brae and Lerwick was to allow as many people as possible to travel to them.
“All of the meetings we are having this week will be run in exactly the same way.”
She insisted opinions would be gathered and typed up at Hayfield House before being made publicly available for viewing on the council’s website.
Individual response forms, she said, were available on-line as well as at the meetings.
“Because of the timescale we wanted to have, as far as possible, meetings in the communities. By having the community and parent councils represented, we felt we were giving the communities in each area the opportunity to be represented by those bodies.”
The propopsals under scrutiny
• The first of the five options coming under scrutiny is the existing “blueprint” proposal, which would see two high schools, in Brae and Lerwick, remaining open, along with a junior high schools at Mid Yell that would take pupils from secondary one through to four. The secondary departments at Aith, Sandwick, Skerries and Whalsay would be closed, while the future of the Baltasound secondary would also be considered.
• The second option, called “blueprint next steps”, would see secondary departments remaining open in Baltasound, Mid Yell and Whalsay, from S1 to S3. Sandwick, Aith and Skerries secondary departments would close.
• Under the third option, digital solutions would be explored, specifically remote teaching methods and “telepresence” technology. This could potentially allow all or most schools to remain open, with classroom assistants being used within some of the schools to support a teacher working remotely or “on screen”.
• The fourth option is known as the “hub” model, with both Brae and Lerwick, or just Lerwick, remaining open as “hub” schools. The other schools with secondary departments would become “spokes” or “campuses”. They would function without a head teacher, and with class teachers shared across two or more “campuses”. It is proposed that Shetland College and the NAFC Marine Centre would be included as part of this model.
• The final option is to retain the status quo and not close any secondary schools. But in order to achieve this, huge savings would have to be found elsewhere.