Members of Shetland Islands Council’s education and families committee have backed recommendations to close the Skerries secondary department on the casting vote of chairwoman Vaila Wishart.
North Isles member Gary Cleaver launched a bid for the council to consider retaining secondary education in the isle for pupils up until the end of S2 at today’s town hall meeting over the department’s future.
But Ms Wishart made the casting vote after making an amendment to bring secondary lessons in Skerries to a close from next year after councillors tied at 5-5.
Mr Cleaver’s motion would have been in line with the call last month by the committee’s vice chairman George Smith to retain S1 and S2 education in Aith and Sandwick junior highs.
It also would have proved a winner if unelected religious representative Radina McKay had exercised her right to vote.
She told members she supported Mr Cleaver’s motion but would not be casting a vote after being asked not to by councillors. Members insisted it was not SIC policy to discourage religious representatives from voting.
The case in favour of closure was put forwards by director of children’s services Helen Budge and quality improvement manager Audrey Edwards.
Mrs Budge argued children who take their lessons in Skerries would benefit from an improved quality of education if they attended classes at the Anderson High School.
Ms Wishart said she did not believe the council was currently providing the best educational experience for pupils in Skerries.
She said children’s services was unable to provide equality of opportunity in certain areas, such as team sports.
She argued holding lessons for S1-S2 youngsters in Skerries would only lead to further isolation, as the secondary department would soon find itself with tiny numbers in its school role.
“Children have rights. They have a right to a quality of education that allows them to achieve their full potential.”
Mr Cleaver pointed to a visit to the isles by education minister Mike Russell, who – he said – had argued that the curriculum for excellence could be delivered in any school regardless of size.
“That’s the whole point of curriculum for excellence. It’s flexible and adjustable,” he said.
Gary Robinson said the possible closure was not about saving money insisting the measures were “about education first and last”.
He described attending the Anderson High himself for lessons in 1983 after having had two years of lessons in Scalloway. He said pupils who had come from outer isles from the first year had had a “head-start” over him.
Billy Fox highlighted figures in a socio-economic report which showed Skerries had punched above its weight.
Whitefish boats operating out of Skerries had landed catches since 2010 worth £2.7 million.
Michael Stout placed value on families and communities. George Smith said his “judgment” in the case of Skerries was that children would receive a better education at the Anderson High.
Should the decision be ratified by tomorrow’s full council it means the three pupils will transfer to the Anderson High School in Lerwick from next August and stay in the hostel.
Full coverage of the council meeting and reaction from Skerries will be included in Friday’s Shetland Times.