Council findings detailing the cost of educating secondary education pupils have been slammed in an independent report commissioned by pressure group CURE.
Elected members were last year given a report which appeared to show a cost per secondary pupil of £13,657 – 40 per cent higher than Orkney’s corresponding figure of £9,780.
But Edinburgh-based economic development agency, Anderson Solutions, has set out the difference between Orkney and Shetland’s cost per pupil as just £200 once savings made up until that point are taken into account.
A 13-page document prepared by the organisation has criticised the report which went before the SIC’s education and families committee last July. It gave prominence to a table showing that Shetland’s estimated cost per pupil was more than £3,800 higher than in Orkney.
The report from Andersons was submitted to the council as part of the consultation process on the future of the schools estate in the isles. CURE has now opted to release the report, following the recent decision by the SIC not to publish any submissions to school closure consultation.
The pressure group’s Karen Hannay said the council was being selective in what information it chose to support school closures, rather than reflect the real situation.
“For example, a figure widely quoted was the difference in costs of education between Orkney and Shetland. The review found that using the council’s own revision of figures, £200 per pupil is the difference, not the grossly over-estimated £3,800 per pupil.
“The consultant also made reference to a significant omission within the council report, which is the lack of analysis for return on investment comparisons between the three island groups. In this case, the most obvious measure of return on investment would be academic attainment – a comparison of exam results would certainly have favoured the junior high model.
“CURE believe the independent review shows that the executive summary of the SIC report … is neither a fair nor an accurate summary of its findings. It could be concluded that the information has been selectively chosen to support an established council position to close schools rather than provide a balanced view of the issues.
“We leave it to the Shetland public to read and make their own conclusions. However, it is incumbent on us to ensure this information is in the public domain as it formed an important part of the consultation process.”
However, director of children’s services, Helen Budge, said several subsequent reports had given elected members more up-to-date findings.
She highlighted a report which went before the education and families committee on 20th January, showing progress had been made in reducing Shetland’s comparative costs for secondary education.
That report shows the average cost per pupil had reduced from £13,657 to £11,849 – a fall of over 13 per cent in a period when Scottish average costs had risen over 1.8 per cent. The costs per pupil in Orkney and Western Isles had also increased over the same period, to £10,505 and £10,173 respectively.
“There is not such a differential as there was,” said Mrs Budge.