Council officials have set out recommendations to close Bressay Primary School and bring nursery education in the isle to an end.
A weighty consultation report has been published on the council’s website recommending that the island’s school closes on 4th July.
Pupils, it says, should transfer to Bell’s Brae Primary School in Lerwick from the beginning of the next school year, on 18th August.
It follows a statutory consultation period on the future of the island’s school, which has suffered a drop in pupil numbers over recent years. Only four pupils are currently on the school roll. But residents have long maintained that is indicative of wider problems relating to transport and housing which Bressay faces.
The report states: “Only four of the 16 children who could attend Bressay Primary School currently do go there, and of the 12 placing requests there are out of the school, seven of those are to Bell’s Brae Primary School.”
It also highlights the distance between Bressay and Bell’s Brae primaries as being “only 2.5 miles apart”, including the ferry journey.
It says the transfer of pupils “would not result in unacceptable travel time for pupils,” although it acknowledges a “different type of journey” would have to be undertaken.
In addition, it says Bressay pupils would have “better opportunities for learning together, for group work, for team games, for active learning, and for social interaction” if they were to have lessons in Lerwick.
The report also recommends bringing pre-school education in Bressay to an end.
If implemented, the council could save £74,693 by closing the school.
Not everyone is happy with the idea, however. Public meetings were held as part of the consultation process, as well as discussions with staff and pupils of the affected schools. Twenty written responses were received during the process. Of those, 14 disagreed with the proposal to close, five agreed, and one did not express an opinion.
Key arguments against closure were:
• The proposal discriminates against parents who live and work in Bressay;
• Bressay Primary plays a key role in the community;
• Children gain a sense of belonging from being educated in their own community;
• Bressay Primary School is very important to Bressay and allows new families to integrate and ensures strong bonds between generations.
Other observations were that the proposal to close reflects the decline that has been seen in the isle. They call for a fixed link to be “investigated”, and points to efforts by the Bressay Development Group to develop a strategy of recovery for the isle.
Residents in Bressay say they want to use the drop in pupil numbers as a “catalyst” to regenerate the isle, and that time is needed to do this.
Members of the education and families committee will consider the recommendations on 10th February. A recommendation will be made to the full council meeting two days later.