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Council ignores pleas for Scalloway school

A LAST minute attempt to delay the closure of Scalloway junior high school’s secondary department until at least 2018 has been heavily defeated by Shetland Islands Council.

Local councillor Betty Fullerton acknowledged Tuesday’s 15-5 vote to shut the secondary department may spell the end of her political career, after she went against the wishes of many of her constituents.

The parents council said they were “disappointed, but not surprised” by the decision, saying the SIC had consistently ignored the community’s wishes.

Tuesday’s vote followed a notice of motion signed by seven councillors, including the convener and vice convener.

Their call to delay the closure until a new Anderson High School had been built fuelled angry exchanges in the council chamber.

It would have overturned last December’s vote to transfer Scalloway’s 116 secondary pupils to Lerwick, saving more than £700,000 from the overstretched £42 million education budget.

Plans to transfer the pupils are well advanced after the Scottish government backed the council’s decision, having called the matter in earlier this year.

The motion highlighted concerns that Anderson High School did not have the social or canteen space to accommodate the new pupils.

But on Tuesday councillor after councillor said a recent visit to the Lerwick school had pointed out how much provision had been improved.

The meeting also heard that many pupils from the within the Scalloway catchment area were already attending the Anderson High.

The motion’s supporters spoke of a feeling of “bereavement” in the community since the council made its decision, while its opponents described the move as a “cynical attempt” to overcome a democratic decision.

Eventually just four of the seven councillors who originally signed the motion voted for it – Iris Hawkins, Andrew Hughson, Robert Henderson and Laura Baisley. The only other member to back them was Shetland North member Addie Doull.

Signatories Alastair Cooper and vice convener Josie Simpson voted against, while convener Sandy Cluness was away in Estonia on business.

Mrs Fullerton, who represents the area and chairs the new children, families and learning committee, said she had be inundated with email messages over the weekend, some of which had a threatening tone.

Last December she voted to retain the school and just one week ago had voiced support for Tuesday’s motion. However on Tuesday she changed her mind.

“I am in a very difficult position here. I voted last time to keep it open. However we have moved on since then and we are well down the transition period. I will probably not be here for the next council.”

Shetland South member Rick Nickerson warned that councillors would be a laughing stock if the motion won the day. “It would make us look silly if this goes ahead,” he said.

Lerwick North member Allan Wishart added: “If we go with the motion it will be damaging for the pupils, for the community and ultimately for Shetland.”

New political leader Josie Simpson said he had signed the motion to allow the local members the chance to debate the issue again, adding that he was “pleasantly surprised” by what they had seen on their visit to the AHS.

After the meeting Scalloway parent council vice chairwoman Karen Eunson said parents had viewed this as their last chance to save the school.

“We are very disappointed, but perhaps not surprised. We feel that we presented a very strong case on behalf of the school, parents, pupils and the community in December. We feel we were ignored then, and we have been ignored again today.”

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021