Consultant recommends closure of Aith and Sandwick secondary departments

The council should press ahead with statutory consultation over the proposed closure of Aith and Sandwick Junior High Schools.

Aith pupils with the postcards they handed over to councillors Theo Smith and George Smith on Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Stephen Gordon
Aith pupils with the postcards they handed over to councillors Theo Smith and George Smith on Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Stephen Gordon

That is the advice of a report due to go before members of the education and families committee next Wednesday.

Should members agree with the recommendation it will mean youngsters from Aith will transfer to the Anderson High School in August next year, while Sandwick pupils will go to the Lerwick school in 2016 once the new Anderson High has been built – or earlier if the existing school can find room for them.

Councillors are also being urged to consider axe-ing secondary education in Whalsay, Yell and Unst for S3 and S4 pupils from 2015/16.

If implemented that will mean youngsters being sent to the Anderson High School from the end of their second year.

The plans will undoubtedly provoke a strong reaction from people in the outlying areas – particularly in the West Side where the campaign body Aith Action Group has been formed to fight the junior high school’s corner.

Only yesterday youngsters who fear much of their leisure time will be wiped out by lengthy bus journeys as they travel to and from their lessons in Lerwick handed over 160 postcards detailing their favourite after-school hobbies.

The recommendations have been drawn up by education consultant Don Ledingham, who will address councillors in the town hall next week.

The SIC says the changes will help in its efforts to shave £3.25 million from the school’s education budget.

The recommendation also advises an ambitious partnership be forged between Shetland’s two high schools and the further education sector.

SIC chief executive Mark Boden would lead the co-ordination of the alliance.

A “Shetland Learning Campus” could also be created, allowing schools to be seen as “interconnected” learning environments.


Add Your Comment
  • Johan Adamson

    • November 6th, 2013 12:22

    Hmm, theyve paid a consultant to say what they wanted to hear. When has this happened before?

  • Stuart Hannay

    • November 6th, 2013 12:47

    Ambitious report? I remember reading Macbeth at school and learning that things go horribly wrong when ambition is not tempererd with moral constraint.

  • john irvine

    • November 6th, 2013 14:00

    How utterly pathetic, this council is quite willing to see hard working communities built over many years destroyed only to justify a bonnie new school in Lerwick.

    There is no doubt that if the decision to close these schools goes ahead it will devastate these areas and will eventually lead to their demise, you have to ask yourself if there is not a hidden agenda. It will be interesting to see how many of the councillors will have the integrity and the guts to stand against this totally ludicrous decision which will destroy our islands as we know them.

  • Vivienne Rendall

    • November 6th, 2013 14:06

    The council should not be paying consultants to advise on school closures. Instead they should put the large consultancy fees towards keeping all the small schools open. It will be a sad day if all the small schools on Mainland and in the outer isles are closed.

  • Michael Grant

    • November 6th, 2013 16:18

    I know this is getting away from the schools debate but can this council give us an accurate figure on what they have spent on consultancy fees over this cost cutting review.

  • John Tulloch

    • November 6th, 2013 17:40

    Mmh! Here’s Whalsay back in the frame as predicted. Funny that, when we all know that isn’t on and councillors know fine if they put it through the Scottish minister would reverse their decision, anyway.

    Whalsay, like Skerries, is almost certainly a net contributor to the Shetland and Scottish economies. So why even consider closing Whalsay?

    Still, I suppose it’ll help councillors to appear moderate by sparing Whalsay when they agree to close the other two.

    “We may not be open but we are transparent.”

  • Robert Duncan

    • November 6th, 2013 17:58

    I can understand people being concerned about the cost of consultancy fees, but we would have just as much complaining about the study not being impartial had it been done by the Council themselves. Most people barely allow them the trust to tie their own shoelaces, so they’re driven into a corner where they need consultants just to give the decisions some credibility.

    Is the full report available to public yet? Would be interested to read Prof Ledingham’s recommendations in full.

  • Hazel Spence

    • November 6th, 2013 21:05

    A Consultant!!! Well we must do it then folks. Why destroy something that works so well like junior high education across Shetland. Look at the exam results and the talented children it produces with increased teaching one to one and the childs self identity being promoted in smaller class sizes. All this change is being manipulated not for the good of each individual child and children of the future in rural areas, but for justifying a new AHS and for Helen Budge among others to get a pat on the back for reaching FINANCIAL targets. A “Shetland Learning Campus” could also be created, allowing schools to be seen as “interconnected” learning environments. Just listen to it there already is a fantastic SHETLAND LEARNING CAMPUS which SIC are currently trying to utterly destroy.

  • David Spence

    • November 6th, 2013 21:14

    Not wishing to appear ignorant (no doubt Gordon and Ian will have something to say lol) but why exactly is this Council having to save, I believe, £26 million?

    More importantly, is this due to this vile Tory Governments action on cutting significantly Local Authority Budgets, whilst at the same time able to give the Banks Billions of Tax Payers money (£142 Billion on the last count)……………there does appear to be a contradiction in this vile Tory Governments Agenda in saying they do not have enough funds to finance Local Authorities due to, as we are being spoon fed, the previous Government borrowing too much but still able to give the banks Billions.

    This question may appear to be irrelevant, but, as I have said, Why exactly does this Council have to save/cut from its budgets £26 million and what is the cause of this??????

  • David Spence

    • November 6th, 2013 21:23

    ‘ ambition is not tempererd with moral constraint ‘

    Depends on the ambition Stuart. If it is financial and commercial ambition, then there most certainly is a contradiction in your statement because Capitalism and Morals are complete opposites……in that Capitalism has no (positive or good) morals when it comes to making profit. lol

  • Colin McKearney

    • November 6th, 2013 22:13

    Now would this be the same consultant that parents were denied a meeting with ?? Well I’ll bet that the boden and robinson wishart circus show had a meeting with him , that’s for damn sure !
    Some democratic society we live in when good schools are closed against the wishes of the taxpayer to pay for the frivolities of a few wannabe’s , well wannabe’s , I hope that the dole office is still in Charlotte house after the next election as if this goes ahead there will be a few elected “members” who might need to visit there. If this goes ahead it will adversely affect not only the bairns but families and family life , property values would be hit also , and if so maybe we should be looking for a major reduction in our council tax as a result.
    If the sic had the money it has wasted over , even the past 5 years , it could have kept the schools open for at least 15 years , and that’s just what we know about.
    Wonder how many millions were wasted on the shiny new offices for around 300 admin staff at the north ness………along with all the rest.

  • Colin McKearney

    • November 6th, 2013 22:26

    A “Shetland Learning Campus” could also be created, allowing schools to be seen as “interconnected” learning environments.

    Sniff Sniff , whats that smell….pigs ? No , Sheep ? No , Ah I know what it is…its Bull***t ! whoever came up with that paragraph , given the geography of the schools , should frankly be taken and locked away somewhere quiet…and padded.

    Who pays people to come up with this drivel ?????

  • Robert Duncan

    • November 7th, 2013 0:28

    David Spence, I would suggest if you are interested that you read the Medium Term Financial Plan:

    The Council has to make these cuts as currently its spending is well above its income, meaning the reserves that were worked up during the original oil boom are being drained at a fairly extraordinary rate. Some of these reserves are required for future expenditure, such as winding down Sullom Voe, but also provide general financial security and the ability to spend on things outwith the outgoing costs (such as the new high school).

    The reduced government allocated budget will have had an impact but it’s ultimately a splash in the water given the vast overspending in the current set up.

  • Robert Duncan

    • November 7th, 2013 0:32

    The “Shetland Learning Campus” is in fact a long overdue ambition, to provide better connections between school and Shetland’s colleges and provide better opportunities for vocational education. The words quoted in this article do make it sound a bit wishy washy but reading Prof Ledingham’s report that was something that struck me as a particularly valuable part of the strategy he has set out.

    It should also be pointed out that whilst these changes are no doubt motivated by finance, there are other factors, and under the new Curriculum for Excellence I’m really not sure a transfer at the end of S4 makes any sense. It automatically disadvantages the pupils in rural schools by disrupting the Senior Phase and removing the flexibility enjoyed by pupils at the high schools.

  • Gordon Harmer

    • November 7th, 2013 8:37

    David it was the Labour Government who spent billions of tax payers money to bale out the banks. It was Labour who let borrowing spiral out of control and force austerity measures on the present Government.

    This deprived the local councils of much needed cash but that was compounded in Scotland by the SNP freezing council tax payments. This SNP Government have stated the importance of being able to raise cash from taxes for Scotland to survive and yet they take take that much needed facility away from local councils.

    There is no wonder services are suffering as a result, you yourself know this and you know how to get by it. In another thread you stated that you shopped at a capitalist store in Lerwick rather than a store owned by its members. That is how you solve your cash flow problems, you did nor say you borrowed to solve your cash flow issues and I don’t need to ask why. You did not borrow because you do not want a debt around your neck, a debt you have no chance of re-paying.

    There you have it in one idiot proof explanation why things are as they are, it is nothing to do with vile this and vile that its to do with bad decisions made by Labour and the SNP. We at the bottom end of the food chain are the ones who always suffer when a responsible Government come in and try to sort thing out.

  • ian tinkler

    • November 7th, 2013 8:42

    Democracy! it is OK winging when all goes to S?>t. Just who voted for these ovine prats and whom could not be bothered to vote at all? O yes that would be us, now who really is at blame here? Apathy rules OK! Sadly we get the politicians we deserve, more often than not.

  • Johan Adamson

    • November 7th, 2013 9:19

    Even with the Scalloway bairns and teachers taking early retirement in Lerwick, the AHS still costs the most to run per pupil, and its exam success is not that great. Brae is also very expensive. Get rid of the expensive subject heads. Do Orkney and the Western Isles have these? Do they have better exam success? – yes; does Aith (costing less) – yes. And if the isles pupils up to S2 are going to manage with primary teachers, so can the rest of the pupils. The inequity in this is surely blindingly obvious. So to the lack of cohesion and a plan with vision – I thought the consultant might have at least supplied the vision. Has he done the bus trip on the single track roads? We expected more of him. Schools will be more different now than before, with this plan. We are going to need a legal challenge, like Aberdeenshire with their libraries and like Sustainable. Bring it on.

  • M Inkster

    • November 7th, 2013 12:38

    The schools debate isn’t just about the future of children’s education in Shetland. I think it’s equally important to ensure that those pupils currently in the system and being taught in the schools facing closure, or otherwise affected, are now receiving and will continue to receive as high a quality of education as possible.

    With that in mind, whilst I sincerely hope that the consultation process is carried our properly and fairly, it is equally important, this time around, that it is done as swiftly and decisively as is reasonably possible and that lengthy “stays of execution” are avoided, where possible.

    I don’t think that schools facing the axe are necessarily going to deliver the best education as the whole debate process must be very unsettling for pupils and teachers alike, and will likely become more so as the debate intensifies.

    The focus therefore has to be about delivering a good quality of education, both now as well as into the future, as there can be no debate that current and future pupils will only ever get one opportunity, irrespective of the outcome of the debate on the future provision of education in Shetland.

    Hopefully, everyone involved in the process is mindful of that, particularly as current secondary pupils also have the new Curriculum to get to grips with.

    Michael Inkster

  • john irvine

    • November 7th, 2013 13:43

    It would be interesting to know what information Mr Ledingham was given by the Council to base his findings, am I the only who smells a rat? How much money has been spent on all this?

    We must and I mean MUST all stand together and refuse to let these closures go ahead, all the school councils have got to stand up for one another and stand solid against these insane proposals, all the isles councils Aith and Sandwick will have to unite and steadfastly refuse to accept what this council wants to do. We all know that savings can be made elswhere.

    If we all stand together we can succeed!

  • Sheila Tulloch

    • November 7th, 2013 15:55

    Well said John.

  • Shona Miller

    • November 7th, 2013 17:30

    Typical. The council yet again pays for a ‘consultant’ and at which price I wonder?! And what about all the money spent on feasibility studies in the past, and artists impressions of thing that never happen. The old library/museum comes to mind here when thinking about feasability studies, sure the study said the old building was deemed unsafe or falling apart, but as far as I recall, it was definitely still standing the last time I passed, and the amount of people that complain the new library is infact not big enough. Should demand a refund from whoever did that study!!
    And why did the skatepark take so bloomin long to get around to? And took very little time to build it would seem!
    Too many studies and meetings and not enough action I would say!
    Anyway, to the subject in hand: Shutting all these secondary departments. What?!!! Sounds to me like this is the council trying to justify putting up an extremely pricey new Anderson High School. Why does everything that gets built here have to be so over-designed and over the top? What’s wrong with a simple design, instead of some futuristic, all singing, all dancing piece of c***.
    I think the over spending needs to be thought about realistically now, I think they are already admitting that too much money has been spent in the wrong places so why should the bairns and smaller communities have to suffer? Why not cut some of the higher earners bonuses, and salaries, benefits etc..etc..?
    If they cut the secondary departments now, I think they’ll end up finding that less and less young folk are going to want to bring up their families here, Shetland thrives from community, and as for making a Shetland Learning Campus, that is just BS. The quality of education in Shetland is pretty damn good in comparison to the bigger schools Doon sooth, so why should it be compromised, and by the sound of it, turned into something seen in a bigger city.

  • George Nisbet

    • November 7th, 2013 18:18

    I entirely agree with you John, our strength is in solidarity.
    It seems entirely ludicrous that while barges of workers are being brought into our islands, new hotels are being build, workers are filling empty houses in remote islands, our construction and haulage firms are struggling to keep up with demand, our council are still making such damaging decisions based on finance. I agree we must make savings but the nightmare scenario forecast is not the case, so why destroy our communities with such extreme measures?

  • Amber Faulds

    • November 7th, 2013 19:51

    So the council has decided to close schools on outer islands and other rural areas- this will lead to long commuting to other schools and parents deciding to leaving islands as work and childcare does not go together ( it’s hard now!) With no folk being able to live on outer islands there will be no need for ferry services ( saving more £).
    It seems that council wants to empty outer Islands and to build large community around Lerwick.
    Where will all this council saving and cuts get us?!

  • John Tulloch

    • November 7th, 2013 23:46

    Hear, hear!

    The way forward is for all the threatened school districts to fight together, there must be no councillor deals i.e. Isles councillors cornered into voting to close Aith and Sandwick.

    Stand firm!

  • John Smith

    • November 8th, 2013 3:18

    There seems to be a groundswell of support for keeping Sandwick and Aith Junior High Schools open, exactly as they are. I agree the employment of this consultant has been a total waste of council taxpayers’ money. The report is discredited by the many of the comments above. We have to hope that the education committee meeting next week rejects the report outright in support of community spirit centred on these schools.
    Why doesn’t the council concentrate on finding the money to keep schools open; start a campaign, use it’s contacts to seek schools sponsorship, even ask the oil/gas companies for another donation.
    We all know how excellent Shetland schools are, what a wonderful experience they give our young people and how the schools are intertwined with their local communities.
    How can any committee ignore all that?

  • Dave Hambidge

    • November 8th, 2013 7:48

    As an interested visitor (North Staffordshire) who has traveled much in 59 years the facts are simple, a community that looses its school or shop dies, slowly maybe but inevitably.

  • Johan Adamson

    • November 8th, 2013 9:22

    Sometimes the comments on here make me laugh, but sometimes they make me want to cry. I think everyone realising how desperate this is is fantastic. I would like to be optimistic that sticking together will work, but I dont feel listened too, all the meetings and bairns comments have been for nothing. They will just shut the door and not listen – get what they want. Its not really a fair fight.

    We need more information. We need to know what other councils spend and on what. If we are on a par with the others, if this was fair, if we were really getting to the root of the problem, I would try to accept it. But I dont think it is. Busing 11 year olds for more than an hour cant be right. Rural services are always going to cost more. We either need a school, a bus or a hostel, or a ferry, or some roads. You cant keep cutting all the rural services when Lerwick has so far seen none of the pain. I cant believe that the cost of a junior high, with all the savings they have already made is more than the cost of the AHS plus a bus and hosteling.

    • John K Smith

      • November 12th, 2013 10:03

      Absolutely agree Johan Adamson. It is not and will not be a fair fight.
      The cost of the AHS is massive compared with even the unproven, suggested, fantasy savings if schools are closed. The current AHS must be good enough and must be the first thing to be cut.

      You are right to say we need more information but mainly we need the SIC to say tomorrow (Wednesday 13 November) that they have cancelled any plans to close Sandwick or Aith.

  • Johan Adamson

    • November 8th, 2013 10:10

    Just read Gary Robinson’s ‘Sounding off’. The reasons our ogrades are above average is the junior highs. Highers are Lerwick. You are not proposing any changes in the highers? When I went to school, Lerwick was a top school. And if we have the same number of teachers, why the overspend? Its not the buildings – they cant account for all of it, although I do actually agree on some of the smaller primaries being too small, but primary bairns should not travel too far? Is it Hayfield? And no mention of support of the community, especially the one he is meant to represent, as promised in his electioneering.

    And apologies for earlier lack of commas and toos and tos. Betraying my excellent education (Skeld, Aith, Lerwick).

  • Graeme Sutherland

    • November 8th, 2013 11:01

    Cuts to rural education. Cuts to rural transport links. No obvious SIC plan on how to sustain rural communities. Major investment, however, in projects based in and around Lerwick. Is it just me, or are the interests and motives of the SIC all too obvious?
    I think it’s a real shame that the rural heart of Shetland is being systematically wiped out under the banner of “cost cutting”. The small schools and unique way of life found in Shetland’s smaller communities is something that the council should be doing its utmost to protect, not destroy.

  • ian tinkler

    • November 8th, 2013 11:51

    During the last Council election campaign was privileged to attend Aith JH school and debate with fellow prospective councillors and the pupils thereof. I well remember Gary Robinson committing himself if front of all present to do his uttermost to protect rural education and Aith School. Words fail me now, at least printable ones to describe the contempt I feel for this nearly man, his lack of leadership and courage to sand by his words!

  • Marina Thomason

    • November 9th, 2013 17:52

    I don’t know where Gary Robinson got his pupil numbers from quoted in the “Sounding Off” this week. Maybe from Hayfield House? We have (from 2012 statistics) 1766 pupils in primary and 1462 in secondary, making a total of 3228. According to Gary we have capacity for 3793 pupils so if that really is the case we’re doing very well! It would be great if the Shetland Times could approach councillor Robinson and ask him if he stands by what he has written in the paper because this sort of information which is being put out into the public domain is very mis-leading, he does make it sound like we have a total of 1790 across primary and secondary which is quite clearly wrong.

    As for spare capacity the Rural Commission has been quite clear that this should not be used as an excuse to close rural schools. The formula used is based on floor space and does not take into account areas or classrooms which are being used for other things eg. social areas, dining area or even cupboard space. There are very few schools in Shetland that have any real spare capacity to the level that is being stated. This in itself has now changed in the matter of weeks from when Gary Robinson said on Radio Shetland that schools were operating at 65% capacity, now he has stated in the Shetland Times that it is ” less than 50 per cent “. We need clarity from our convener – which is it, 65% or less than 50% ?

    • Marina Thomason

      • November 10th, 2013 13:45

      Gary Robinson is of course political leader and not convener. But clarity from someone over this error is needed, especially since it is also highlighted in the editorial.

  • Colin McKearney

    • November 9th, 2013 19:06

    I was just wondering if Prof Ledingham during his time in Shetland took the time to make the same journey by bus that our bairns would be expected to take ? If not then how can he give a credible opinion in his report ? If he hasn’t made the journey , and was relying on a description of the roads given by Robinson , boden & co , then I submit that his report , and therefor his recommendations are fatally flawed , and this has been , yet again , another total waste of taxpayers money.

  • Michael Bilton

    • November 11th, 2013 0:02

    Parents/Community folk who wish to keep their schools open have to stand and fight. Challenge the decision on legal grounds – seek a judicial review. Consult other community groups on the Scottish mainland who successfully fought school closures. Study the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees individuals a family life – and that includes children. Bring in an independent auditor to look at the council’s figures. See where financial savings could be made to assist with budget cuts. Comparisons with the Orkeys and Western Isles are not like for like. Lose your schools and the island communities will die. Is this what Shetland folk actually want? No. How do small communities in the Faroes and Norway fund education? Do your homework, keep challenging. What would be the psychological impact on children from the schools that were closed? Put in a freedom of information Act application for ALL SIC documents/memos/correspondence/committee minutes related to proposed closures. What were the terms of reference for Prof. Ledingham. Was there an abuse of process in the way SIC has behaved. Make trouble, question, question, question.Above all – keep fighting the closures, as Churchill said: “Never give up. Never”.

  • Johan Adamson

    • November 11th, 2013 9:12

    I was wondering if we need to reduce the school estate, have they chosen to close the junior highs which both have primary departments, therefore not reducing the school estate at all since there will still be primary departments there? And with less bairns there will be more spent on fuel and maintenance for fewer bairns. Unless there is a masterplan to then fill Aith, Sandwick & Scalloway with primary bairns from elsewhere? If this is the case and this is the real target, be honest about it, and just do it – since we have all this spare capacity floating about.


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