22nd October 2018
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Scott: bussing West Side pupils to Lerwick poses SIC a ‘big problem’

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.

MSP Tavish Scott believes the SIC could be opening itself up to scrutiny.

MSP Tavish Scott believes the SIC could be opening itself up to scrutiny.

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.

MSYP Catherine Hannah: "I do understand the issues and concerns of the pupils."

MSYP Catherine Hannah: “I do understand the issues and concerns of the pupils.”

“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.

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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8 comments

  1. John Anderson

    The SIC has enough on its plate without our MSP playing the populist card. Kicking about in opposition, you don’t have to worry about balancing the books. Tavish might like to suggest which services should have to cut more, to keep school buildings open.

    The issue with Aith transport is whether some children can travel an extra 30 mins in the morning, and an extra 30 in the afternoon, on the main road from Bixter to Lerwick. If that extra journey is considered acceptable, it is not beyond the wit of the Council to organise this ‘transport plan’. If unacceptable, Councillors need to find the money from elsewhere. Tavish will not be lining up to support them when the auditors come in. He’ll have flitted on to his next photo call.

    Reply
  2. Johan Adamson

    John Anderson – Tavish is right to point out the legality of this and the Scottish Government part in it. Secondly the Professor has these bairns on the service bus leaving at 7.40 from Wast. They are expected to walk up to 3 miles to get to this bus. This is well outwith the 65mins journey time and may well be legal for the over 16s, is not ideal and certainly not acceptable for 11 year olds. And they should know the cost of transport but dont; they might find that the cost of the AJH is no more than the cost of Lerwick plus all these buses and the hostel. Where are your savings? And there are savings to be made in other places. They have not researched this properly at all.

    Reply
  3. Christopher Ritch

    John Anderson, you seem to know a lot about how much the Council is going to save, perhaps you can help me understand something which is puzzling me? In the report by Prof Ledingham, he suggests that transport AND hostel costs amount to 542,000. Now, there are going to be about 240 pupils needing to be bussed to Lerwick from Bixter and Sandwick and home again 5 days a week for what? 30+ weeks. So over 100,000 journeys. If we look at the zettrans website we discover that a bus fare from Bixter to Lerwick is 2.10 and Sandwick to Lerwick is 2.00 so we are looking at transport costs of 200,000+ Leaving 342,000 for hostel costs. Assuming that the hostel is at full capacity, this works out at 3,420 per pupil per year – do you believe that is realistic? At 50% capacity it is still only 6,840 per pupil per year – can that be possible?

    Reply
  4. John K Smith

    It is good to see our MSP taking up the cause against closure of Sandwick JHS and Aith JHS.

    Everyone, and I include the Education and Families Committee and the whole council in that ‘everyone’, knows that closing these schools is a very BAD thing, in every respect: education, community, young people, Shetland, even finances – will all suffer if closure goes ahead.
    In response to John Anderson I believe that not only Tavish Scott, but ANY YOUNG PERSON attending any school in Shetland could better choose services to cut rather than closing Sandwick or Aith.

    Reply
  5. Harry Dent

    I could take Mr Scott’s views seriously, if he were not a member of a party that is so keen to slash and burn public services from Haroldswick to Penzance.

    Reply
  6. Sheila Tulloch

    Mr Dent, he is first & foremost member for the Isles. He ‘gets it’.
    Mr Ledingham won’t, he’s not from an island community.

    Reply
  7. Johan Adamson

    So often now the SIC are told they cant do something for legal reasons, and they are told that we dont want them to do it. But they forge ahead anyway, hell bent on the thing they think is right. When are they going to realise that a more collegiate answer is better and that we dont expect them to know best about everything?

    Reply
    • Johan Adamson

      Why dont the council have consultation like the NHS? They are so lucky to have a population who are interested and want involvement, who are not apathetic. Why are they so scared of this?

      Reply

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