SHETLAND Islands Council is to consult on the closure of five primary and two secondary school, councillors decided on Thursday morning.
Around 25 parents from across the isles watched the service committee debate the council’s Blueprint for Education plans for more than two hours.
The result was a 13 to six vote to consult on closing the secondary departments of Scalloway and Skerries schools, as well as primary schools in Uyeasound, Burravoe, Sandness, North Roe and Olnafirth.
Education staff said the closures would chop almost £6 million from the £42 million education budget.
Detailed consultation as prescribed under new government regulations will now begin with every individual school.
Final decisions on the future of the secondary schools could be reached as early as December this year, while consultation on closing the five primary schools will not begin before 2011.
The Scottish government will have to approve any closure before it can go ahead.
The council’s education spokesman Bill Manson said he was glad to see the council moving towards closing some of its 33 primary and seven junior high schools after several attempts in the past failed to find a majority.
The Shetland North councillor said: “I believe it was overdue to make this decision, and I am glad that the council made a considered decision to look most carefully at the provision of education for the foreseeable future in Shetland.
“I think a realistic and sensible decision has been adopted, which should enable us to continue the high education standards.”
The SIC is faced with a major population changes where more and more people are moving from the country areas towards the isles’ central belt and Lerwick. In addition, school rolls are expected to fall by 30 per cent over the next 20 years.
But the decision to work towards closure of a number of small primary schools on the periphery of the isles is already proving controversial.
Communities are gearing up to fight tooth and nail to secure the future of individual schools.
In a scathing attack on his fellow members, north isles councillor Robert Henderson said: “I don’t want to see the closure of any primary school. I think the primary school in any community is the heart of that community, and if you rip the heart out of a community you destroy something that you can never regain.”
Chairman of Burravoe primary school’s parent’s council, Steven Brown, said the council had tried to close the tiny school with just 11 pupils many times in the past.
He said the community was determined to keep Burravoe school open as it was the focal point of the area and the reason why people still wanted to move to the Yell village.
“I am not surprised but I am disappointed by the decision. We like to keep a thriving community in Burravoe and we see no hope for that without a primary school. Without a school there will be no attraction to the area and we will slowly de-populate,” he said.
Councillors were presented with nine closure options ranging from just organisational changes with no school closures to a very radical overhaul of the complete set-up of education with the loss of 18 primary and all seven junior high schools.
Head of schools Helen Budge said that no community wanted their school closed, however everyone recognised that something needed to be done.
Two attempts by councillors Jonathan Wills and Betty Fullerton to persuade councillors to agree to further closures were defeated, as was an amendment by councillor Alastair Cooper not to close any of the primary schools.
Unst Community Council chairman Laurence Robertson said the community was happy with the decision despite the threat now hanging over Uyeasound primary school.
“We are absolutely delighted and totally relieved that the secondary school is remaining open. This is vitally important for the future of Unst.
“We are sad that Uyeasound didn’t get through at this stage, but the Uyeasound parents are experienced campaigners and I am sure they will be ready for the consultation process when it comes.”