A march to celebrate education in Shetland’s country areas will make its way through Lerwick next month.
The Communities United for Rural Education (CURE) group will be marching through the town on Saturday 7th June, starting at 11am from the Market Cross. The march is being held to celebrate rural education in junior high schools and primary schools in areas which are under threat.
People from all rural areas, from the North Isles to the South Mainland are expected to take part, and CURE secretary Gordon Thomson hopes for a good turnout. Mr Thomson said: “We feel strongly that rural education should be upheld. We hope the Jarl’s Squad will take part, as well as schools sports teams in their strips and all sorts of groups.”
The CURE group hopes the protest will result in the retention of the existing schools which are earmarked for closure, most immediately Urafirth and North Roe, but also Sandness, and secondary departments in junior highs in Aith, Sandwick Mid Yell, Whalsay and Baltasound. Group members say that, especially as the new Anderson High School is not yet built, now is not the time to dismantle a successful system. CURE is also against the suggestion of having S1/S2 junior high schools.
The CURE group argues that the threatened rural schools have been built up by the SIC over many years, with excellent teaching facilities from nursery to secondary, with well-equipped grounds, sports fields and leisure centres and sports courts nearby.
This has encouraged families and teachers to move to rural areas. CURE feels that changes to this model will have the opposite effect, discouraging decentralisation and promoting a drift to the centre around Brae and Lerwick, where housing is already in short supply and prices are increasing.
CURE argues the SIC should instead be promoting rural education to age 16.
Mr Thomson said: “A lot of money been invested in junior highs. At Sandwick, for example, inspectors found a ‘spacious and attractive learning environment’, and these schools have attracted people to move to these areas in the past.” He pointed out that Mid Yell School, a £9 million “state of the art” school was only built three years ago.
If pupils are educated at junior high schools until the end of S4, they then have the option to move on to higher education at a high school or college, or into apprenticeships or workplaces.
Mr Thomson said: “This is a model which has worked well in the past and, given the uncertainty over a date for the new AHS, the future governance of the two Shetland colleges and the details on the working of the new Shetland Learning Partnership, is not the time to be dismantling a successful system.”
He added that in the recent consultation on Sandwick JHS, the vast majority of pupils, parents, staff and community councils voiced their desire to retain this present model and were clearly not interested in an S1/S2 school. This model has not been tried and tested and will not be popular, resulting in the demise and eventual closure of junior highs.
He referred to the conclusion in Eduction Scotland’s report: “It is not clear to HM inspectors that the current proposal of S1/S2 is the most viable or reasonable option.”