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.