The option of retaining S1 to S3 lessons at all the isles’ junior high schools is back on the table after a meeting of the education and families committee this morning.
Originally the meeting had been asked to consider the discontinuation of S3 and S4 education at Sandwick Junior High School with effect from July 2016. The affected pupils would then move to the Anderson High School, assuming it was built in time.
But now the option of S1 to S3 education, or the alternative of closure of all junior high schools, will go out to public consultation.
This was proposed by committee chairwoman Vaila Wishart, and unanimously backed by the members. They, and education chiefs, cannot have been unaware of the strength of public feeling about retaining rural education, as shown in the weekend’s march through Lerwick.
Head of the children and families service Helen Budge said at the meeting that a statutory consultation about the future of Sandwick had taken place between February and March, gaining 316 responses. Of these, 78 per cent had been in favour of retaining the S1 to S4 model.
Concerns cited about the S1 to S2 proposal included travelling distance and time, quality of education, class sizes, community and family life, school capacity, staffing implications, centralisation, financial implications and the fact that it was an untested model of provision.
Mrs Budge said Education Scotland had made the point that to meet pupils’ needs: “The current arrangement of S1 to S4 is neither viable nor in the best interests of children.”
She added: “I remain convinced that S1 to S6 offers the best education.”
The model of S1 to S4 is no longer the “best fit” with the new Curriculum for Excellence, she said, and a transition to a different school in the middle of senior school was “not wise”.
However, she recognised that Shetland’s geography meant there would always be a need for some transitions. She was therefore, “with reluctance”, recommending the S1 to S2 option, as a transition would be better at the end of S2 than S4.
Ms Budge explained the Curriculum for Excellence started with a broad general education in S1, which pupils would have narrowed down by S3. By the end of that year, they would have chosen their subjects for S4 to S6. The way forward was for more “flexible learning”, she said, with pupils possibly studying HNCs at college while still pupils at school.
Although the S1 to S2 option was up for consideration, Ms Wishart rejected it and moved the S1 to S3 model.
She said: “I’ve had numerous arguments with teachers about S1 to S2 … the arguments for S1 to S2 don’t stack up in my opinion.” She added that she had to take Education Scotland’s verdict into account, that S1 to S4 was neither viable, nor best for pupils.
This was greeted warmly by members, with Davie Sandison welcoming the fact that “clarity” was emerging. However he asked whether the S1 to S3 proposal could be achieved within the constraints of the council’s medium term financial plan.
Gary Robinson said the council still has to look at further efficiencies.
The proposal will now go to the full council, which meets this afternoon,and financial costings will be presented next month.