Plans to close the junior high department at Aith have come under fresh criticism – this time by isles MSP Tavish Scott.
He says proposals to end secondary education on the West Side fail to stack up because of inadequate proposals to bus pupils long distances to Lerwick.
Speaking during a visit to the Aith school this morning, Mr Scott said it was likely education secretary Mike Russell would call in any decision to close.
Councillors are due to discuss the future of secondary education when they meet on Wednesday.
Mr Scott’s comments came as Aith pupils handed over responses to questionnaires they had prepared in relation to the proposed closure.
As part of the recommendations made by consultant Don Ledingham, pupils from Aith would transfer to the Anderson High in August next year.
Youngsters studying at Sandwick face a similar dilemma. They could be among the first pupils at the new Anderson two years later if room is not found for them in the Knab building before then. Similar concerns exist in the South Mainland about transport issues.
Mr Scott said the council would be opening itself up to scrutiny by the education ministers should they favour bringing secondary education in Aith to a close.
“I think the principal problem with closing the secondary department in Aith is that the council will come under immense pressure, not from within Shetland but from the Scottish government, over having a transport plan.
“Mike Russell made quite clear in the summer when he was here that transport would be a major factor, and he can call in any closure decision.
“He will then make a determination on whether closure should go ahead or not based on the adequacy of the proposals.
“At the moment, as far as I can understand, the transport side of the proposal hasn’t been fully worked out, and that has to be a big problem for Shetland Islands Council making a proposal in relation to Aith. Now, maybe they will sort that out by Wednesday, but it’s certainly not clear at the moment.”
Asked whether he thought Mr Russell would “call in” any decision to close Aith, Mr Scott said: “It’s open to representations from parents and pupils and from the community, and there’s no question Aith would do that – absolutely no question at all.
“Were that to be the case, as the education secretary has made clear, he’s going to look at transport, so they [the council] have got to solve that.”
Mr Scott said councillors would be made fully aware of the feelings within the school community. The questionnaires that have been returned will be put before elected members.
Also present at the hand-over of questionnaires was Catherine Hannah, one of Shetland’s members of the Scottish Youth Parliament.
The 16-year-old is an ex-pupil of Sandwick Junior High and currently attends lessons at the Anderson High.
“Having gone from Sandwick to the Anderson myself, I do understand the issues and concerns of the pupils.
“I was here a month ago speaking about the closure and what was going on in Aith and how they [pupils] wished to be consulted.
“Me and [fellow MSYP] Kaylee Mouat find pupils are often left with no knowledge of what’s going on.
“They thought of a questionnaire – now that has been carried out and me and Kaylee are making sure we keep in contact with them by email and by visiting them regularly and keeping things going.”
Mr Scott said: “The Aith Junior High pupil council invited Catherine and I to come out and discuss the school, but also to receive the results of a questionnaire they have been doing.
“All pupils in the school have filled it in. It has now been collated and I want to make sure that the results of that questionnaire are passed on to elected members of our council as they take important decisions on the future of education this week.”
Of the 63 responses, 62 said they would prefer to attend lessons in the Aith school. The children also outlined difficulties in gaining access to sports and leisure if the West Side secondary closed.
Questions were also asked about how youngsters would feel about staying in the hostel and travelling.
Parent council member Jacqueline Johnston said it was important youngsters took part in the exercise.
“Pupils wanted to get their views across in a way that, they felt, was appropriate.
“Tavish is going to put them [the responses] to the councillors.
“Ultimately it is the bairns who are being affected and we hope they [councillors] will take their views into account.
“I feel that the Aith school gives an excellent level of education currently, and I think that the bairns benefit from the junior high system where they integrate with primary bairns. It works both ways – the primary bairns very much benefit from integrating with the older bairns. I feel that would not be achieved within the Anderson.”
• For all the latest on the school closure proposals don’t miss Friday’s Shetland Times.