Education cuts are back on the agenda as the council looks to save nearly a million pounds in the next financial year – and this could include closing schools.
After a meeting of the education and families committee today, chairwoman Vaila Wishart said: “We have too many schools. We have to look at absolutely everything.”
The drastic measures are deemed necessary as the children’s services department braces itself for cuts of over £900,000 next financial year. Political leader Gary Robinson had strong words for the Scottish government over the way it funded education.
He said the government’s rigid policy on teacher ratios and class sizes were hindering Shetland’s education – one size did not fit all.
He said: “The clear message from [local authorities’ representative organisaiton] Cosla was that giving local authorities more freedom we’ll deliver better attainment.”
He said that the “multi-million pound” fund that the Scottish government had to increase attainment was being distributed “like sweeties” and Shetland would only get around £23,000 Cuts were being forced on Shetland, which was actually spending £125 for every £100 given by the Scottish government.
He said: “The Scottish government has a legal duty to ensure education if properly funded, we must put the message across.”
Head of children’s services Helen Budge said that in the past five years, £5 million had been taken out of children’s services, mainly in the schools service, plus £1.2 million from the closure of schools, making £6.2 million savings in total.
But in the next financial year £927,000 will have to be cut from children’s services, and Mrs Budge said: “It’s going to be very difficult, we had to make lots of cuts in the last five years and the next few years are going to be harder still.”
However, Mrs Budge said that she had not been asked to come up with a report on the school estate until 2017, which means no school closures will be considered until then.
Mrs Budge said the cuts would mean reductions on a range of services, including staffing in the library, in ASN departments, clerical staff in schools and central staff at Hayfield. This would be done by not replacing staff, rather than redundancies.
Additionally there would be cuts in the use of recreational buildings, fostering allowances, grass cutting and short breaks.
Vice-chairman of the education and families committee George Smith said he was “really concerned”, and it was “really serious” for schools. He said it was too early to say what it would mean, but the requirements of the Curriculum for Excellence would have to be met, and from those requirements, work out what resources were needed.
• Full story and reaction in Friday’s Shetland Times.