22nd March 2019
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Pupils asked to sign ‘our school our future’ postcards

Aith Action Group is preparing its latest assault against proposed changes to secondary education provision which threaten the closure of community’s junior high school.ST44 postcard

The protest body is posing the question ‘What do you love to do after school?’ to children in the area.

Youngsters are being encouraged to fill in specially-prepared postcards being made available in rural shops from today. Responses will be presented to councillors at the town hall from Tuesday ahead of an education and families meeting scheduled for 13th November.

Parents in the West Side fear valuable after-school time will be replaced by inactivity on a bus if the Aith Junior High is forced to close as part of the council’s efforts to shave £3.3 million from its education budget.

Aith Action insist children could face 65 minutes on a bus, twice daily, five days a week, if they are forced to commute to Lerwick for lessons at the Anderson High School.

Spokeswoman Jane Haswell said: “We are running the Our Schools, Our Future postcard campaign to give the bairns an opportunity to share their thoughts and continue to help councillors understand the reality of what closure of junior high schools will do to our young people.

“They are not numbers on a spreadsheet, the decisions councillors take will affect real children, real lives and have very real consequences. Our Schools, Our Future also highlights the centralisation of education which will harm everyone as class sizes and school roles increase dramatically.”


About Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor has worked as a reporter since 1995, and has been at The Shetland Times since 2007, covering a wide variety of news topics. Before then he reported for other newspapers in the Highlands, where he was raised, and in Fife, where he began his career with DC Thomson. He also has experience in broadcast journalism with Grampian Television. He has lived in Shetland since 2002, where he harbours an unhealthy interest in old cars and motorbikes.

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  1. Johan Adamson

    Sending approx 4 large buses of bairns from the west each day makes no sense whatsoever.

  2. Sheila Tulloch

    The 65 minutes does not take in to account the geography, larger buses on single track roads, & weather/gritting cutbacks! So folk can stop comparing with whats happening anywhere else in the country. Apart from the practicality of the lack of capacity available for bus operators to tender for more routes, given the extra traffic to the Total site, and the fact the current transport costs are 7 years out of date, as that was the last time contacts were awarded. Oh sorry, its not meant to be about the money! Yeah right.

  3. Johan Adamson

    To continue, I mean if someone invited the whole of the SIC to a meeting south, you would probably say no, bring the meeting here, makes much more sense than shifting all of us south. Ergo it makes more sense to leave the bairns where they are and bring the teaching to them

    Oh and well done Aith Action Group for highlighing these issues

  4. Robert Duncan

    Don’t the majority of children already pass through Bixter to get to the Aith school? I can entirely understand and emphathise with the concerns over increased travel time, but is the nature of that travel really going to see a significant change?

  5. Leanne Johnson

    Only a small number of children from Sandsound/Tresta area pass through Bixter, all the rest come from west of Bixter. A large percentage of bairns that attend Aith live on single track feeder routes.
    We live in Westerskeld and that is approx 10 miles from Aith and our bairns take 40 minutes by bus as it is to get there, so the journey to Lerwick will be well over 65 minutes. Should closure happen our bairns will endure a very long bus journey twice a day. In winter months they will leave in the dark and get home in the dark – this will have a huge impact on their wellbeing.

  6. Robert Duncan

    Why will the journey go from 40 minutes to “well over” 65? Bixter to Lerwick would be, at a fairly conservative estimate, 35 minutes in a bus. Minus the ten minutes between Aith and Bixter, that’s bang on the limit. I don’t wish to say that necessarily makes it acceptable, but again I just want to question some of the arguments used here.

  7. Robert Duncan

    Perhaps I’ve misread your comment slightly, Leanne Johnson. When I say “pass through Bixter”, I mean any of those taking the turn off just after the Bixter garage, which surely includes all those from Skeld, Westerskeld, Walls etc

  8. John Tulloch

    Listen up, fokk! Three hours a day on a bus, fifteen hours a week, sixty hours – ten school days – per month!

    What does that come to, eighty to ninety school days worth per year spent sitting on a bus!

    Think again, SIC.

  9. Ian Walterson

    Robert, glad to hear that you empathise with the concerns over increased travel time but I am not sure if you entirely understand the situation.
    As Leanne says, only a small number of bairns actually pass though Bixter, the vast majority travelling a considerable distance to the school from places like Gonfirth, East Burrafirth, West Burrafirth, Vementry, Westerskeld, Selivoe, Walls, Mid Walls and Sandness. I don’t know if you are familiar with any of these communities but they are all a considerable distance from Aith JHS resulting in fairly long bus journeys already over some very narrow single track side roads which have always been challenging for bus drivers in the winter months but will be even more so now because of the SIC decision to cease gritting most of these routes. The reduction in winter gritting in addition to a practically non existent roads maintenance budget will certainly result in problems, people can already see some of these roads deteriorating and should we get a particularly bad winter of snow/ice/frost, there will be major problems.
    Our bairns leave home at 08.10am to attend Aith JHS which is 11.3 miles away, some bairns from other areas have to leave earlier than that.
    If they were to be bussed into Lerwick, I reckon they would probably have to leave home at around 07.30am so I hope you can appreciate that there would be a significant change in the nature of their travel regarding distance and time.

  10. Stuart Hannay

    I’m confused. The talk is that Don Ledingham’s report is actually going to recommend that Bells Brae and Sound is going to be extended up to S2 age but they won’t be taught by specialist teachers, Is there enough capacity in these schools to accommodate the extra pupils? Would it really make the savings expected and will this be rolled out to all the primaries in Shetland?

  11. Robert Duncan

    Ian Walterson, I am familiar with the smaller communities of the Westside, but I will have to be spoon fed some information here. Forgive my ignorance, but if children from the likes of Sandess and Walls do not eventually take the B9071 road from just after the Bixter garage, which roads do they take to eventually reach Aith?

    Obviously those from the Vementry, Aith itself and anywhere else north of that junction aren’t going to reach it, but I struggle to imagine most of the other buses taking another route.

    I can accept saying “through Bixter” may have been misleading, I did not mean actually passing through Bixter in it’s entirety, however once the bus has reached that point there is no increase in single roads if it continues to Lerwick. I accept the time-based arguments, but don’t think it does the campaign any favours to mention the single track roads that already exist in getting to Aith JHS.

  12. Jane Haswell

    Our Schools Our Future postcards are a positive and uniting recognition that when that end of day bell rings children all across Shetland treasure that time. It is “me time”. Countless volunteers support after school clubs. Teachers provide homework clubs. Children hang out with their friends, help at home , crofts, shops, take part in sports and music . Closure threatens this important part of a child’s school day. Not being able to access the community activities they currently do will be a direct loss. These are not privileges, these are a fundamental part of the true and holistic meaning of education. We are asking that these very real results of closure are recognised. For children that means inactivity on a bus will directly replace their own identified post card answers. The aim is to help Councillors continue to see the real consequences of the closure proposals. Each area has its own particular consequences. For AJH it is the joint effects of the spider web configuration of single track roads all requiring feeders services. The resultant increase in total journey times, twice daily to Anderson. Increased boarding of children. The weather and winter darkness. The reduction in winter maintenance. By law the max bus speed is 50 mph, children must be seated before bus moves off. This as our Bus trial back in 2012 showed, makes for a very tiring and monotonous traveling experience. The reality is daily mileages of between 40 – 58 miles by bus. The added factor is that the bulk of their journey will be on a single track feeder route, with stop and start pick ups. Very different to a car journey. The many testimony’s from S5,S6 westside pupils evidences that this journey directly affects their state of readiness for learning , their motivation and decisions to remain at school beyond S4. Our communities’ voices across Shetland are being heard. The postcards will help our bairns voices be a central part of this debate. We will be presenting them to Councillors over the next two weeks. Thank you to all the shops for taking part in this community initiative and all those sending messages of support. Pick up a card and drop it off at the shop this week and we will deliver them over the next two weeks.
    Join us on aithaction fb page for updates.

  13. John Anderson

    I think Robert Duncan is doing this debate a service by patiently and politely picking through the arguments, which have become overstated and hysterical. I do not like the way the children are being mobilised in this fanatically one-sided campaign, which seems to recognise no benefits or opportunities in change. Aith Action group has lost the sympathy of the rest of Shetland, because there is no understanding here of issues that make it crazy to keep running half empty schools.

    If the news above is right about primary schools going up to age 14, that is very interesting. A new ingredient.

  14. John Tulloch

    John Anderson,

    Do you have any figures to back up your claim that Aith Action Group has lost the sympathy of the rest of Shetland? If they have lost sympathy it will only be because it is becoming seen as “them or us” in the “rest of Shetland”.

    Why on earth would Shetland be going to expand Bell’s Brae and Sound to take classes up to secondary two?

    If Bell’s Brae has got room for secondary classes why not move Sound Primary there and close it – with minimal inconvenience for the Sound pupils?

    Anyway, I thought the new AHS was going to be bigger than originally envisaged, able to hold more pupils than exist under present proposals, so where the hell are all the pupils coming from, we’d need to close every secondary school in Shetland to fill the Lerwick schools?

  15. Iris Sandison

    A couple of points, if I may. Yes, at the moment, bairns travelling from all over the Westside do travel on single track roads to get to the Aith Sec School – but if transport is delayed getting them to Aith in adverse weather condition, the bus will probably still get there, albeit late. How long, I wonder, would the bus wait at Bixter for a feeder bus that doesn’t arrive before that main bus leaves for Lerwick? So, the Skeld bus, for example, arrives at Bixter only to see the bus for Lerwick disappearing over the Scord o Tresta. And then what?

    As for ‘Aith Action Group has lost the sympathy of the rest of Shetland’… I wonder who this ‘rest of Shetland is!’ I have spoken to many people from other rural parts of Shetland and we have their support and understanding. Surely any community has the right to fight for their democratic right to have their voices heard by the people who will decide the fate of their children’s education. Don’t you think there would be a furore if parents in Lerwick, say, were told that all their Secondary children were to be bussed to Skeld – or Waas? That would be madness.

    There are times when changes have to come and it can be the case that those changes turn out to be acceptable. Take, for example, the closure of the Freefield Centre. I understand that Islesburgh Centre, a few hundred yards up the road, has proved an acceptable alternative. But we’re not talking Freefield Centre here! We see NO advantages in transporting our bairns on a daily basis from the far west of these islands to Lerwick. Not for six years. It is not an acceptable alternative.

    A couple of people have said to me…’well, I went to Lerwick school aged eleven and it didn’t hurt me.’ Yes, some of us did – but that was how it was fifty years ago. Not all bairns went to Lerwick, of course. M any stayed at their local Junior Secondary School – which was also a safety net for some of the bairns who went to school in Lerwick but for many reasons, returned to their local schools and completed their secondary education there. If Aith Sec School is closed, there is no fall-back. It will be Lerwick or nothing and if you don’t connect with a huge school, or you can’t hack the travel or for whatever reason, well, what then?
    Don’t you think, then, that we have a good reason to fight for what we believe is best for our bairns and communities?

    It’s not hysteria – it’s midder wit.

  16. Johan Adamson

    John Anderson the schools are not half empty. They are building a much needed extention to the Walls one and Aith had to expand into their gym recently and use the leisure centre to cope.

    Interesting if we have junior highs in Sound and Bells Brae and keep the rest up to S3, so do we re-open Scalloway to take Tingwall, Burra, Whiteness, Nesting, Cunningsburgh, Fair Isle, Foula, etc that are now put to Lerwick at 12? (assuming no capacity elsewhere). Then the AHS is just S3 and up? That would mean savings in high school teachers. And why is Skerries not going to Whalsay and then Brae, surely that is closer?

  17. Sheila Tulloch

    So John Anderson, what do you see as the ‘benefits or opportunities in change’?

  18. Iris Sandison

    And it maybe wouldn’t do any harm to repeat what Tam Baillie, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People said, regarding school closure proposals: ‘The voices of children and young people should be taken into account and be seen to be taken into account, so I’ll be very interested in the process of consultation and the involvement of children and young people.’

  19. Linda Tait

    Don’t some secondary students already commute to the AHS – or at least they used to – how do they get there?

  20. Sheila Tulloch

    Yes Linda, for S5 – 6, not at 11 years old! Currently, for the numbers involved for only the older pupils, a mini bus can accommodate them on feeder bus routes, but if you start busing S1 – 6, the numbers will require a large bus, unsuitable for the single track roads, on the route to the pick-up point at Bixter. Then requiring an earlier start, as more stops to pick up more pupils, thats where the time figure increases.
    My daughter could tell of many occasions through the winter that the bus was late arriving in Lerwick, so were told off by teachers for lateness, who obviously had no understanding of the situation. Feeder buses Iris, sometimes missed the schoolbus, so got on the workers commuter bus which leaves Bixter 5 minutes later, which could work, when there was only a handful of pupils. (then they are dropped off at the Esplanade, making them later still!) But the commuter bus will not have the capacity, if the same thing happened with an S1 – 6 busful!

  21. ian tinkler

    1/. 15 minute walk from Flawton to Clousta crossroads.
    2/. 20 minute run by bus to Bixter (frequent stops to pick up other children.)
    3/. 30 minute wait at Bixter.
    4/. Then bus on to AHS. 30 to 45 minutes. One and a half hours plus, twice daily
    That was for my daughter Shona doing higher science at AHS, previous 20 minute trip from Flawton to Aith JHS, for standard grades.

  22. Johan Adamson

    Yes they do, Linda, but they are not as young as 12

  23. Johan Adamson

    All pupils from aged 14 from beyond Tresta were in the hostel when I went to Lerwick. to me, much more preferable than this. As Sheila has pointed out, the trip for the older bairns is bad enough.

  24. Robert Duncan

    Thank you for your kind words, John Tulloch, although I cannot agree with what you say about the Aith Action group. Whilst I will challenge their arguments, I can only applaud their organisation and fantastic efforts to involve their community in this vital discussion. I have heard some murmuring about parents who maybe don’t fully agree with them feeling a little intimated by the strength of their campaign, but on the whole I think they’ve done a fantastic job of making sure this debate gathers the attention and momentum it deserves.

    My own comments in the informal consultation were for the consideration of S1-S2 at some of the existing junior highs but I personally hope this talk of that system in the Lerwick primary schools is just a case of crossed wires somewhere. Can’t really see much motivation for that with a new high school on the way.

    Ian Tinkler, if you don’t mind me asking, did you ever raise the issue of your long travel times with the education department? It seems like something that would have been easily sorted – to some extent – by a more efficiently organised service, and sometimes the only way that can happen is if people draw attention to the problem.

  25. Robert Duncan

    Regarding the last paragraph of my previous post, I mean to say the long transfer times (i.e. the thirty minute wait in Bixter). That could be very easily avoided, whereas the physical travel times are obviously trickier.

  26. John Tulloch


    I don’t quite follow your comment about disagreeing with what I say about Aith Action Group – I broadly agree with your opinion that they are doing a great job?

    My comment was addressed to John Anderson regarding loss of symapthy, I repeat it below for reference:

    “John Anderson,

    Do you have any figures to back up your claim that Aith Action Group has lost the sympathy of the rest of Shetland? If they have lost sympathy it will only be because it is becoming seen as “them or us” in the “rest of Shetland”.

    “IF they have lost sympathy….etc.” I will be very surprised if they have lost sympathy which is why I asked if John had any figures to back up his assertion that they had lost it.

  27. ian tinkler

    Robert, in winter sometimes there was no connection at all. Shona, was 16 plus and quite tough. Are you happy 14 year olds should take this ordeal twice daily in a Shetland winter. Snow stops it in its tracks, wind does not. Some cold mornings wind chill at Clousta -16C. 30 minute wait was when weather good and bus on time, try an open bus Shelter for one half hour plus at -16C. Then perhaps you could write with honest authority!!

  28. Sheila Tulloch

    Robert, I think Ian should stick to the facts, as he does the campaign no favours when he doesn’t! When I lived in Bixter there was never a feeder bus that had to wait 30 minutes there, try 10, 15 max! Although I do wonder whether 15 minutes is long enough for his daughter to walk to the crossroads from his house. There must have been many occasions where she was soaked through & had had to sit in those wet clothes all day.

  29. ian tinkler

    Sorry Sheila a bus left Clousta crossroads, that arrived bus at least 30 minutes before the AHS bus left Bixter.. That was 4 years ago, and a matter of fact.. If you had lived in Clousta you may have well known that.

  30. ian tinkler

    I think if memory serves, Clousta Crossroads bus 7.30, AHS bus left Bixter 8.00. On a good day.

  31. Sheila Tulloch

    So, half an hour from Clousta crossroads? You have already factored in 20 mins travel time to Bixter! Can’t have it twice. When I lived in Bixter, we could watch the buses turning up.

  32. Robert Duncan

    Very sorry, Mr Tulloch, I have addressed the wrong John there. You’ve never offered me any kind words! (I jest)

    Ian Tinkler, you have not addressed the points I made and appear to be attributing to me opinions I have never held, let alone stated on this page. I simply asked if you had ever raised issue with the council over what would clearly be an unacceptable transfer time. There’s almost no logistical reason for that to happen – all I can think is perhaps if the bus had to double run to pick up more children, but again I would agree that is not an acceptable set up. I do not have to stand out in the cold for myself to form that opinion, doing so would not add or remove any “honest authority” to anything I have actually said.

    Regarding the fifteen minute walk to the crossroads, I assume that would apply regardless of school so the wet clothes issue would stand with or without closure.

  33. ian tinkler

    Good on you Sheila, just how could you tell where they came from? However
    the bottom line is, my daughter left home well before 7.30 to start school at 9.
    That was weather permitting!!

  34. Sheila Tulloch

    Robert the 15 minute walk would only apply to 5th and 6th year pupils without closure. And yes, Ian makes good points about bus shelters, etc. but throughout Shetland I know many pupils are even worse off, with no bus shelter at all.

  35. ian tinkler

    With regard to 15 minute walk, idiotic as it sounds, seniors and junior have different criteria s to how far they have to walk. As a junior Shona was picked up at the croft. As a 16 year old within a mile of her doorstep!! Not clear of the exact distances but the secondary’s have to walk far further!!

  36. David Spence

    I may be wrong here, but as a result of the Council having to make drastic cuts to the budgets in all area’s

    (no doubt due to this vile Tory Government using the excuse of the previous Government borrowing too much when in reality it was the biggest rooks in society getting all the tax payers money to bail the b******* out, hence these drastic cuts across all local authorities)

    I am intrigued to know how the Council managed (and when the population was roughly about the same before the oil came) to deal with pupils in rural area’s in relation to secondary education? I suspect, as is happening or will happen I believe, things will resort back to what they were before the oil had a massive impact on the islands and its economy.

    What I find quite interesting is how the council (Zetland County Council then) managed to keep running Uyeasound School in Unst (where I was a pupil) in the 1970’s but could not manage to keep it going now…….especially since Shetland is a far more prosperous, affluent community now………..just an aside lol

  37. Johan Adamson

    Anyway, the point is, these journeys are long and can be arduous – bad enough as it is, and made longer by having to travel another 20 – 30 mins by bus to Lerwick instead of Aith, and back again. Thats an hour or so more each day that they cant carry out any of their hobbies, sports or contribute to home or community life, expected in the Curriculum for Excellence. Bairns as young as 11 having a longer working day than some of the adults they know, too tired and fed up with travelling to stay on at school for any longer than they have to. This just cant be right.

    Aith is one of our top schools, we should be keeping it and congratulating staff and bairns on that, not closing it. I wouldnt mind so much, but they are not closing the schools which cost the most. They are pursuing a policy of closing the junior highs, when they cant close them all anyway, with no up to date information on what the buses are going to cost. They should spend more time finding out where the problems really lie, which schools are under-occupied and costing the most. They might find out this is Lerwick and that they should be shipping bairns to Aith, not the other way around.

    What we need is a table showing all the island councils, with depts and with budgets, numbers of staff, numbers earning more than £50K. Then it might become apparent where really our problem lies.

  38. Gordon Harmer

    David Spence, You make me want to scream with your vile anti Tory rhetoric. Have you not considered the fact that the SNP have frozen council tax for a number of years might also add to the fact the council have no cash.

  39. Johan Adamson

    Gordon Harmer, I agree with you. Councils nationally seem to be cash strapped. If they arent going to fix the potholes, provide schools and put on the street lights. What exactly are we and central govenment paying for?

    And attacking Aith JHS is like shooting Bambi when there are a hundred rabbits eating the grass (and thats a LOL David Spence)

  40. ian tinkler

    Gordon, do not worry about David Spence and his child like hatreds. His profound lack of logic and knowledge renders his utterances contrary to his own argument. Blissfully not knowing up the Country of Russia with the Soviet Union as total different interties being a prime example. His inability to see socialism being responsible for more deaths in history than Nazism ever was, being another example . His distorted views on facts and history render the anti-capitalist movement nothing but harm

  41. Bill Adams

    Gordon Harmer, you make me want to scream with YOUR vile anti SNP rhetoric !
    According to your warped worldview, all the ills affecting us are solely due to the
    duly elected SNP Government – utter biased and twisted logic on your part.
    Thank goodness the SNP Government managed to negotiate a Council Tax freeze
    with Scottish Local Authorities – God only knows what rate of Coucil Tax we in Shetland would be have to be paying now if our utterly profligate Council were responsible for setting the local rate here !


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