School closure consultation: Parents at Brae meeting despondent about options

The mood described by one parent as “despondency” prevailed at Brae High School last night, where about 70 people formed groups to discuss the unpalatable options of secondary school closures or drastic cuts to services.

Five options (see previous story) to save more than £3 million were put forward by SIC quality improvement manager Audrey Edwards, but chairman of the meeting George Smith urged attendees to consider “hybrid” options and “be creative”.

Baltasound parent council chairwoman Catriona Waddington said she was disappointed no public meetings, as opposed to focus groups for parent and community councils, were being held in the North Isles. She argued the North Isles would be “disproportionately affected” by any proposed cuts.

Ms Waddington said that Baltasound parents had been promised in writing that their school would be saved if Uyeasound closed, yet, in the most drastic scenario, it was now being considered for closure. This would mean Baltasound pupils going to Mid Yell for S1-S4 education and then transferring to Anderson High School, with former Uyeasound pupils having multiple “transitions”, something education chiefs are keen to avoid.

If this happened, she said, nothing the education department said could be believed – the fate of Baltasound would be the “litmus test”.

Parents in general were worried their children would not be taught in their own communities, and although the “next steps” scenario in which they stayed in local schools until S3 was preferable, it raised questions: would there still be specialist teachers, and would smaller numbers mean composite classes?

In any case there would still be “huge disruption” to move school for what could be as little as one year, it was argued.

Under this scenario, Aith and Sandwick secondary departments would be closed, but the savings target would still be £1 million short.

“Telepresence”, or remote teaching, was the third option, but this was unpopular with parents, although they agreed it could be used occasionally. It would in any case save the least money as IT technicians would be needed.

Parent Helen Robertson said: “[Teachers] can’t see what they (pupils) are doing.” Class assistants would be in charge, but would they be trained for this role and would they receive extra pay?

The “one hub” option of having Anderson High School as a “core” and all other secondaries as S1-S3 “campuses” came under fire. The proposal of a single workforce travelling between schools was blasted as a “scandal” by one parent, who said: “Teachers should be teaching, not travelling.”

Lunnasting head teacher Fiona Marshall said that teachers like to feel part of a school, something that could be lost in this model. Ms Waddington pointed out that if teachers were shared between Baltasound and Mid Yell, they would have to go for a whole day as there are no ferries at lunch time.

The final two hub option of AHS and Brae being “cores” was preferred as it avoided “centralisation”, but again transport was an issue, as Mid Yell and Whalsay pupils would be expected to attend Brae. Ms Waddington said it takes an hour and a half to get there from Cullivoe, and Ms Robertson asked: “How early in the morning is it acceptable to get a bus?” A hostel for Brae was not mooted in this option.

Regarding the future fate of empty school buildings or parts of buildings, education official Shona Thomson said a school such as Sandwick could be “segregated”, with its secondary department put to another use, whereas the configuration at Aith would make this more difficult.

For a report from  the Anderson High School consultation, click here.


Add Your Comment
  • Peter Ratter

    • October 9th, 2013 17:48

    It may likely be read as a cynical opinion, but anyone else noticed the way that ‘consultation’ has come to mean ‘Here is a decision that has been made but not yet enacted; we are telling you about this decision to give you a sense of “ownership” and “involvement” and because we are legally obliged to “consult” our shareholders; however unpalatable you may find that decision, we shall continue to “consult” you until the vast majority are too tired, bored or dejected to care because it will happen’.

  • Robert Duncan

    • October 9th, 2013 22:08

    Which of the options do you think has already been decided upon?

  • David Spence

    • October 9th, 2013 23:46

    Never a truer word said Peter.

    However, you forgot to mention the exorbitant fee’s these cowboys, sorry I mean Consultants, charge for their services that could easily be done in-house, so to speak……and save the taxpayer a fortune.

    It is, more than likely, another nail in the coffin of the Local Authority by this vile Tory Government spending taxpayers money to pay ‘ private consultants ‘ to do a bodge job of concluding, as said previously, what could have been done in-house.

    Undermine the Local Authorities by cutting their budgets on services, wasting the money of their budgets paying the private sector to do jobs that could be done by them, wasting money on unnecessary red tape that the private sector itself does not have to comply with and generally prepare Local Authority services for the private sector…………..that is the agenda of this vile, despicable Tory Government.

  • Brian Smith

    • October 10th, 2013 7:30

    The late Pat Regan of Shetland Islands Council once told me that consultation was telling people what you had decided to do.

  • John Tulloch

    • October 10th, 2013 8:20

    The author of the options is king, the pen is indeed mightier thn the sword!

  • Robert Wishart

    • October 10th, 2013 8:26

    Why is there such confusion over “consultation”? To consult means to seek information or advice, and/or to discuss something with someone before you make a decision. This is what is happening. It does not mean doing what you are told by those you consult.

  • Marina Thomason

    • October 10th, 2013 10:54

    Consult – to have discussions or confer with (someone), typically before under-taking a course of action.

    Hear – to perceive with the ear the sound made by (someone or something)

    Listen – to give one’s attention to a sound.

    In my opinion school’s services have to consult as they are legally bound to do so and they have over this past week been hearing what the people have to say.

    But the question is are they listening? Are they going to pay any attention to what we have to say? Are very real issues and valid points which are being highlighted regarding these recent proposals now going to be addressed to the satisfaction of parents and communities which will be most affected?

    It’s difficult to have any kind of real and meaningful consultation regarding the future of secondary education when the information provided raises more questions than gives answers. The time constraints and the financial constraints I fear will not allow for a satisfactory outcome from these options. There are lots of people out there with lots of good ideas but we need time for them to come forward and fill a blank sheet, not start with what we have already and perform what amounts to emergency surgery to stem the perceived haemorrhaging of it and in the long run actually end up killing it. For a successful model we need to start with a blank sheet and discuss what we want for our children’s education in Shetland and how that can be achieved, using every resource possible from within our own communties and with the help of external funding and assistance from other agencies eg Charitable Trust, BP and Total.

  • David Spence

    • October 10th, 2013 11:33

    I take your point Robert. However, it beggars belief the number of feasibility surveys by consultants on behalf of the Council which have taken place, and the massive costs to the Council involved for such work, even if no action thereafter is taken.

    One would have thought that the Council would have the necessary skills in-house to carry out a feasibility study and costing prior to any further action or decision being made?

    and yes John, my comments, albeit flippant towards a certain political party, are justified in terms of the skills the Council has in relation to the necessity (whether this is Government legislation I am not sure of) of having to source this work outwith the Council to the private sector for what is, in affect, potential Council work. (ok, under EU Regulations if the cost of the job is over a certain amount it has to be publicised in national as well as european journals for tender).

  • Sheila Tulloch

    • October 10th, 2013 14:18

    Marina. Absolutely. (Round of applause) Any chance o you running for da cooncil?!

  • Derek Watt

    • October 11th, 2013 0:38

    There is a perspective I can offer from the other side of the world. In New Zealand, ‘consultation’ means that after a course of action is announced, if enough people (and I mean a large chunk of the population) get extremely irate then, and only then will the proposed course of action be changed.
    In NZ, this requires an absolute ground-swell of strongly held views against the proposal. In other words, it it only when the outcome looks like it might effect the re-election of politicians that the term ‘consultation’ has any meaning. The rest of the time it is a softening-up process.

  • David Spence

    • October 11th, 2013 16:20

    ” it is only when the outcome looks like it might effect the re-election of politicians ”

    You are correct Derek, regrettably.

    Our so-called democratically elected members of Parliament are, I think, very much in it for themselves and not necessarily for the people they are suppose to represent.

    In vile age of ‘ Celebrity Status – primarily entertainment for the delinquents and stupid of society, dishing out autobiographies 5 minutes after they are famous ‘ the celebrity, politicians themselves are seeking the limelight of fame, even if their contribution to society is zero, but as long as they make the quick buck from their autobiography or being in chat show or magazines etc etc.

    Lets judge a politician by his/her celebrity status rather than the fibre and their beliefs in a fare and just society, is the basis of our political system these days…..which is not only dangerous but exceedingly quite sad.

  • Derek Watt

    • October 12th, 2013 8:01

    I imagine most politicians try their best, but if the best that they can come up with is to close local secondary schools, then it is not good enough I’m afraid.
    That’s not progress but the opposite, on a small Island it can be devastating. Families will leave and it will be much harder to attract new arrivals.
    The word ‘despondency’ caught my attention at the beginning of the article, I would have liked to have seen the word ‘anger’. One person was despondent, I wonder how many were angry? The way that things get reported can influence both the people and the politicians, and that is not a small thing.

  • Michael Bilton

    • October 13th, 2013 23:29

    When some consultants gets to work, councils get told the answer before they start work eg they know that they will be given the desired outcome. It its ludicrous to think that the education of all Shetland children has to be centred on Lerwick. It is the Shetland ISLANDS Council – for good ness sake. If they close school it will mean the end of the Shetlands as generations have known them. There will be flight by families who do not want to break up and see their kids boarding – that’s why the have remained on the islands, it is part of their culture. I keep saying this, and I hope people will take it on board, you must demand a judicial review and you only have a very short window to lodge your application after the decision is made. Please parents start doing your homework now. Research other school closures on the Scottish mainland where parents won their case in court. Get yourself a friendly human rights lawyer who will argue for your rights under the European Convention on Human Rights and your absolute right to a family life. If a foreign prisoner cannot be deported so that he can have a family life with children he has never seen – surely Shetland parents are entitlted to a family life with their children whom they have nurtured carefully since birth and not to have that right denied them because SIC bureaucrats do not have the whit or wisdom to come up with an alternative. When you hire consultants they will work on a very narrow terms of reference eg get us out of this financial hole. They will not be asked to consider whether the culture of the Shetland Islands should be destroyed because a cost benefit analysis determines it is more economic to house all Secondary school kids in a central locatation. Keep fighting. Do your homework. Contact parents organisations in Scotland – write to the national papers; contact BBC Scotland, get publicity, make a nuisance of yourselves, never give up. Ever.


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