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News / Live: School closure debate

Shetland News reported live from the council chamber on Thursday morning where councillors voted 12:10 to proceed with consultation on closing four junior high and five single teacher primary schools. What follows is a rough approximation of what was said during the debate, with the outcome exoplained in more detail in the story above.

13.10pm: Coutts suggest taking Whalsay out of the proposal due to the ferry times involved.

It creates disparity with Yell and Unst and education in Unst and Yell is more expensive.

V Wishart says that would be premature.

Coutts loses by 15 to 7.

13.08pm: V Wishart stresses this is not a vote for closure and urges people to support.

Roll call vote:

Motion wins  by 12 votes to 10. Details of voting later

13.04pm: George Smith is puzzled by amendment as there will be time to prioritise.

Fox reads amendemt again – caling for moratorium until fully explored priorities, and fully explore technology.

Summing up is to remove uncertainty, consultation is not designed to start until next year.

All we are achieving by doing this now is crfreating unvceratinaty and strife, causing damage already by creating uncertainty.

It is not necessary to approve a plan at this stage. We should be fully investigating use of digital culture to craete a new educational culture. We are close to a 1 gigabyte connection to all our Shetland schools. Copuncil has invested in this.

Surely savings can be made on staffing. Rural education is a nationalo problem, we could become a leader in this and could attract government funding. JHS schools could become centres of excellence setting an example nationally and globally.

Hub and spoke model could have save £2.9m – what happened to it? Instead of seeing JHS schools as a cost, see it as a benefit. A government paper extolled virtues of all through schools like we have.

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This is not deferral but a considered step and removal of threat, because a lot is spoken about closure. If we go ahead there will be a regression in children’s education.

12.58pm: Michael Stout want to comment on Flea’s comments – leaving home at 11 does have its effects.

We have to design a sustainable model.

I am enthusiastic about technology after engineering concerts in remote isles transmitted to Lerwick.

The lack of understanding of technology worries me that we will miss an opportunity we won’t be forgiven for.

Campbell heartened by comments today, but disagrees with Henderson of bussing pupils out of Lerwick to rural areas. We are possibly within 24 hours of hearing about funding for a new AHS, a Lerwick school for all of Shetland. Let’s secure what is best for Shetland, a new AHS working tigether with Brae and JHS allembracxing new technologies for best educational oportunities for all ooutr young people.

12.54pm: North councilor Andrea Manosn will support the amendment.

Transport will cost a lot more than we think.

We have too many staff, I am sorry. When reality comes in folk will realise I am not wrong.

We are putting cart before the horse by accepting motion.

Leerwick member Amanda Westlake says no one wants to close schools but we can’t afford to keep them open.

12.49pm: Mark Burgess revisits idea of S1-3 being kept in rural areas.

Teachers may not have liked it in 2008, what about now?

Technology is first class, teachers can shar work, white boards can be controlled remotely, multiple computers can be controlled – it’s all pre-existing stuff.

Its same technology that call centres in India use.

We need to save money by changing way education is dellivered by switching to S1-3.

What I fear with motion is that middle ground will be lost and we will follow path of least resistance aiming towards these closure as natural run of political gravity, instead of stepping sideways and looking at it from a different perspective.

.45pm: Also on the phone, Duncan says schools all over Scotland are having to amalgamate.

We have to protect reserves to protect education.

Many statements on future cuts are negative:

We have heard about people leaving islands, where is the housing for them in Lerwick?

Coincerns about children leaving home from remote islands. This happened 40 years ago. They left home and eventually came back to Shetland, some became headmasters. It didn’t affect children 40 years ago, so why should it affect children today.

A positive story – 40 years ago SIC closed five primaries in the south end. Parenst tell me it’s the best thing that ever happend to the area. There is prosperity everywhere I look in the area. On transport, my grandson now attends AHS and says he prefers it to Sandwick. He leaves home at 7.45am andsometiomes comes back at 5.30pm – he never complains.

Given serous financila restraints I urge members to support recommendations.

12.39pm: Frank Robertson from afar on the phone:

He worked under Bill Smith to establish leisure centres around rural areas to provide facilites equivalent to what was in Lerwick.

It has resulted in people settling in the rural areas, young people building houses.

Single Outcome Agreement states council must support rural areas and encourage economy in thos e areas.

Education is a major factor for people deciding to settle in an area. Couple are more mobile than in the ’60s. If there is a lack of educational facilities or a need for children to travel long distanmces it will have an effect. On west side young families are settl;ing because of the excellent schools, which can deliver Curriculum for Excellence as well as Lerwick.

JHS schools are high quality. AHS building is poor and will be there for another five years at least, and I am concerned effect this will have on remote rural areas.

12.34pm:Allan Wishart says we are selling shares to pay wages. This is a model that bgives us a future.

WE are in danger of going down in history as another failed council.

Moratorium will be perceived as indecision.

Calls for a roll call vote so people know who made the decision.

Very disappointed to hear leader has suffered the comments he has.

12.32pm: Shetland Central member David Sandison will reluctantly support the motion.

Scalloway has gone through the whole process and haviong seen that happen. it’s a major thing for any community.

We still have not managed to get culture of frugality correct – looking at every option hasn’t gone far enough. I will be looking for every other saving possible. staff have lots of extremely good ideas and I will pursue them.

I think there is a lot more money to be saved short of shutting a school.

12.29pm: Cecil Smith says he will look at every school on its merits, even though he supports the motion from V Wishart.

Wills is still mystified why Baltasound is not included in this consulttaion, and I think it should be.

A school with less than 30 pupils does not have a future unless tghis technology can change things, which I don’t think he can.

WE are already setting opur priorities l;aid out in the medium term financial plan (being discussed later). It would increase the proprtion of education spend.

I wish I could believe what I hear about new technology. If it can deliver what it promises, then we can find out. We don’t need a moratorium, because the motion achieves that. It will look at detailed studies that will be part of consultation and any realistic solutions will be reported back.

P Campbell made an excellent speech about why JHSs are a great thing. They were in the ’60s, but they aren’t now with the Curriculum for Excellence. This amendment will put money before children, because if we use reserves to maintain schools we will penalise every child by up to £10,000 a head (not a spelling mistake) in future spend.

Theo and Peter give us no costed alternatives. We can’t ignore financial reality. If we do and government comes in we won’t have 32 schools, we will have 17. So let’s put all the children first and save the money. I really don’t want to hear any more about clearances – rustic, romantic hyperbole.

12.22am: Robert Henderson: do we want to be seen as the council that cleared the rural areas?

Whu drfaw everyone into the centre, why not bus children out of the centre?

If so, do we need a new AHS? POssibly not.

Whalsay is no liability to Shetland, it provides a massive amount to the community in spending ability. It had foresight to build big fishing vessels when opportunity is there. We shouldn’t strangle them, we should be helping them.

12.19am: Steven Coutts refers to the Burravoe community being told last year when their school was saved – the uncertainty has been removed. It was not.

There are rational reasons why this is a very bad idea. As a parent I don’t know how I could bring up my bairns this way.

The hostel is a good facility, but you need to be at an appropriate age and 11 is not.

Notice of a future amendment.

12.16am: Shetland North member Drew Ratter says we have to be careful about prioritisation.

People should understand the consequences of taking money out of other areas, and they won’t like that either.

Would Michael (Stout) consider the problems of Eton which populates the Cabinet and Oxford and Cambridge.

What I won’t defer is my commitment to technology to help peripherality.

In 1990 I helped set up START centres, including Skerries, where we managed to create jobs. Obstacle was our organisation.

I would not only want to see stuff Michael wants built in, I would demand it. But when it comes to discussions with EIS negotiations on that, they willnot be easy or short.

But it doesn’t meet our requirements at all. We have a far shorter time scale than that. We are not really faced with a choice here, the reserves run out in four years when stuff we regard as catastrohic will happen anyway. If we don’t produce a balanced budget the consequences will be draconian and severe.

This council did not cause the problems, but they were created by responding to community demand. I can’t see why some kind of consensus can’t be reached here. This is not a decision to close schools, but to continue with a robust process and will be open to additional ideas as it goes on. If we derail it we will run into a new timetable that will end up with us being the Viv Nicsolson of local authorities – who won first million pound lottery prize who spent it all and is the result of many studies since – as we will if we don’t do this.

If we push this one into the nfuture, we won’t make any of the other savings and end up with no reserves left. That won’t get you elected next time. Best message is: We did the right thing because we had to and we are now in a stable situation with reserves to build on.

Other parts of HIghlands & Islands are not hells on earth. If we punt this into the long grass we lose the possibility of doing everything.

12.08am: Theo Smith is concerned, he will not put money before children.

Concerned about impact of unacceptable travel times and hostel accommodation on our 11 and 12 year olds.

Poor roads, two hours a day, behavioural and bullying problems, what will supervision cost?

In winter there will parental worry and trabnspoirt figures have been admitted as being on a shoogly peg.

Long journeys will affect health and behaviour, result in stress and problem behaviour. It will have a negative effect on educationla performance and leave less time for extra curricular activity and affect achievement, and this is all reflected in government research on school travel.

I have experience of being in a hostel and no matter how good it is, it will mean that children will be away from their parents five days a week. This means that these children will be brought up by others.

What will that do to family life and community in which they live? I am worried about people who say how resilient our children are. Are we not using in this expression to cover our own failkings in caring foir them properly? We must fully explore alternative savings, adn we hav considerable in house expertise not yet consulted. 

Let’s move teachers, not bairns.

I refer to 2010 Blueprint for Education report where a hub and spoke model was proposed which maingtained our JHSs and most of our primaries and accordingly still made quite substantial savings.

12.02am: Campbell: this motion would end junior high schools. It asks members to support the destrruction of rural communities as we know them.

It is clear from emails I have received there is a bewilderment among many of the elctorate.

They don’t understand why quality schools should be closed and children transferred out of their communities.

JHS model is a successful one in Shetland, Scandinavia and around the world. Mama socked it to the Harper Valley PPA, in the song, and now our mams are socking it to us.

Why, because it has support of communities, parents and in early ’70s parents supported this model, and din’t want centralised model.

I suggest we can demonstrate as a council that we are willing to take bold and imginative decisions. With technology available we coud have had Councillors Duncan and Robertson as holograms in the room with us.

With technology we could keep high achieving schools, make them as world leaders with technology that exists. Just as this authorityb has sold Global Classroom to Aberdeenshire, it could do the same elsewhere.

11.57am: Robinson questions Cleaver’s figures.

Finance chief James Gray clarifies that Shetland has the highest secondary education costs – £12,000 per pupil, £9,000 elsewhere.

He says figures are added up differently in different authorities which explains why the figure slook the way they do.

11.54am: Wills asks for an amendment to focus the debate.

Fox moves that there is a moratorium on the proposal while the council considers its priorities, which will be reported back in November.

Hendersopn seconds.

Cleaver fears if we don’t have a pause in this process, no matter how much consultation is done that has little traction in the communities that will feel under threat and we will lose people out nof Shetland on the very thought of it. It’s already happening.

We need to let people know we are serious about this. This is a way of delivering something which, like JHSs, can serve us for many years and will grow and enhance our children’s ability to learn at the highest level.

Figures about comparative spends – only Clackmananshire and Glasgow West spend less on education related areas. Social care spending is the lowest. We are not profligate at core spend, its discretionary spending that’s over the top.

Education could raise money by selling services to areas that have not developed this area as quickly as we have. We have to keep our nerve and not buckle at a shocking and terrible task. You only get the answers to the questions you ask. The technology is there now and we can ask the questions, and ask them quickly.

11.47am: Stout wants people to understand the technology better.

This is an opportunity – I don’t believe this is chaining people to local areas but giving children ability to stay at home.

Key is a fundamental change to how education is delivered.

Things have moved on hugely in Shetland.

No one else is in same position as us. We have invested heavily in Shetland Telecom that has majority of schools already linked.

We have technology which is a step change ahead of video conferencing. Shetland College is using this system and it works. Other countries like Sweden and Singapore already us eit. IN Scotland it’s an aspiration, in a few years time everywhere will be using this and we could be a step ahead.

We have potential to extend fibre optic cable using microwave links. We own cable so we won’t have to pay like others will. This is an eminently affordable proposal.

It means changing way teachers teach and cutting staff numbers, it has huge potential and even make money out of this. A teacher could teach anywhere in the world from Baltasound.

11.42am: Robinson says he is appalled at some of the things said about him in public over last week.

He lists a lot of things which are not true.

For a consultatoin to be meaningful allm options have to be on the table.

WE ahve to step up to the table and deal with this or face going round in circles as our children’s inheritance slips through our fingers.

THis is not an in house SIC consultation, its a statutory consultation with the final decision from the government.

I totally agree we must set our own prioritise, but we can only spend the money once. In the current year 37% of money goes on children’s service, twice the spend on social care. By 2016 38.5% will go on education if these savings are made, still twice as much as social care.

More than 120 school staff on temporary contracts. More than 400 council wide. We need to make decisions to give staff security so they can plan their llives.

Let’s make a decision.

11.36am: George Smith says he deplores comments made on various social media sites about councillors and staff over last few days.

He says the mian thing is the council prioritises its spending.

What this allows is time for new thinking to come forward.

There is a lot of creative thinking out there, but we need a plan to safeguard education.

He seconds motion with caveats about looking at other priorities – the motion as agreed at education and families.

11.33am: We are moving onto the debate.

V Wishart says befor she moves the motion she wants to dsispel rumours.

WE are not voting on closing school,s we are voting on a model.

There have been some constructive ideas, especially from west side, that will be looked into.

What was good 40 years ago may not be best thing today.

Centralsiation is happening everywhere, people can’t be chained to their area.

What we are aiming is a centre of excellence for the whole of Shetland with some of the best sporting facilities in the country. I hope to hear soon if a new AHS is on the cards.

Timetable is workable and there’;s plenty of room for change.

Education has changed a lot over the years, thankfully. Pupils encouraged to question tecahers and use technology. Curriculum for Excellence is designed to help them reach their potential.

If we don’t save money teachers will have to scrimp and save or we will go broke.

I have concerns about transport times, but these could be reduced.

This council didn’t create financial mess we are in. Our reserves have been squandered. This month’s wages are coming out of the reserve fund, we can’t let that go on and doing nothing is not an option and this provides a lot of room for manouvre.

11.28am: Duncan asks what effect on not closing would have on council tax.

Budge: We don’t think it would have any further bearing.

Council leader Gary Robinson asks if anyone in Scotland provides Curriculum for Excellence via videolink.

Budge: No

Cleaver: Regarding hostels, if we get go ahead does hostel get built at the same time as the school.

Budge: We don’t have that detail yet, but we want it built at the same time.

Cleaver: NO contingency for large inlfuxx from west sdie before 2016 when this is built.

Budge: There is some capavcity should that be required.

11.23am: Wills asks if the the Lerwick primaries are already at capacity because of admissions from outside Lerwck.

Budge: So many children are coming in that we are going to have to have an admissions policy.

11.22am: Shetland West member Theo Smith asks if we are still paying rates and energy costs at Scalloway.

Budge: Yes.

Smith: These costs are being listed as savings. There seems to be a discrepancy.

Budge: I will look into that.

Campbell says if 32 westside pupils beyond 65 minutes away wanted to go to the hostel, how would they be accommodated?

Budge: That depends partly on outcome of bid to build a new hostel.

If successful we would make sure the hostel was appropriately built.

If unsuccessful we would look for alternative accommodation, as we have done before.

We have also aksed for additionalo space for additional sports needs. Detail has not been worked out yet.

11.16am: Duncan on the line again from Vancouver.

If Whalsay closes and children go to Brae, could the ferry service cope?

Budge: The ferry review is ongoing and we are being kept informed how that’s going.

We’re conscious winter service is reduced, so all of this will be looked at during proposals and consultation and reported back to let you debate it again.

11.13am: Cleaver asks what contact there has been with Shetland Telecom on videoconferenciing.

Budge: Not much, but we are looking to be more involved in Digital Shetland over the next weeks and months.

Cleaver: Re. Skerries are not other lessons like music taught across videolink. Modern languages was just one example.

11.11am: Shetland Central member Mark Burgess asks about spliting schools to S1-3 at junior highs and then going on to high school.

Budge says there would be staffing implications that would make it difficult, as would be providing education through videoconferencing.

Burgess: You could have fewer teachers and maybe existing teachers would thrive in multi-discilplinary rather than specialist role.

Budge: We find secondary staff are very focussed on their subjects. Heads didn’t want a S1-3 model.

11.07am: Lerwick South member Cecil Smith asks why 12 pupil Bressay school is not on the list.

Budge: Decision taken to keep primaries on islands.

Bells Brae has 2 Bressay pupils from last year and one from year before, but we would have more from before. She will provide detail.

Smith: We should look at that school as well.

11.04am: Lerwick North member Michael Stout says we are closer with the technology than Budge suggests.

Coming from Fair Isle (he stayed in the hostel), 11 to 13 year olds are going through “frontal lobe neural network development”.

It’s time when how people feel about themselevs for the rest of their life is laid down.

Research says for children to be in a relatively safe environment. it’s absolutely crucial for that person’s development.

It’s one reason I have serous concerns about the proposals.

I am seeking a reasssurance within educational benefits this is taken into consideration.

Budge: Hostel staff do provide a caring environment, by moving more young folk in we woul;d expect them to get the same experience.

Whalsay parents might prefer daily travel to Brae rather than the hostel all week. This will come out in the consultation.

11am: Shetland North member Alastair Cooper asks if there could be discussion in Northmavine about choosing which schools would be closed, as happened last time.

Budge: yes.

Wills asks if schools could be used as campuses for remote education over videoconferencing or sharing staff.

Budge: The technology is not good enough yet for videoconferencing, and shared staff creates its own complications.

Also socialisation and working with others important.

Wills: If all schools had a fibre optic link it would be possible to keep some of these remoter schools open as hubs of bigger schools.

Budge: That would depend on teaching staff and support staff’s ability to provide the support locally.

Wills: We are suing this technology in Global Classroom. How long before we do have the technology.

Budge: Global Classroom is marvellous, but it’s not something we have been able to do on a daily basis. We tried it from Skerries to AHS on modern languages and bandwidth wasn’t good enough. There is possibility in the future IT could enhance education, but it won’t replace teachers.

In Scotland it doesn’t deliver full education, as there are still many issues to do with teaching via technology which will have to explore over the next few years to catch up with other countries.

Wills: If parenst felt travel times were excessive, at what point could they apply for a hostel place.

Budge: We have had requests like that from Sandness and eslewhere we have been able to do.

s10.52am: Shetland West member Frank Robertson speaking over the phone is concerned about travel times.

He knows pupils leaving school before 7.30am and not getting home until after 5pm creating a two tier education system.

How do we resolve trans[port matters to remoter rural areas.

Budge: We would look at that in a proposal paper and we have found people come forward with interesting ideas. We have looked at some information and out of 123 pupils travelling from west mainland there would be 30 travelling for more than 65 minutes.

10.49am: Shetland South member Allison Duncan speaks across the telephone line from Vancouver, apologising for not having his papers but he didn’t know he would have this new technology in front of him this morning.

Could other schools be put in and some of these taken out and could the timescales be switched around.

Budge: This could be done through a motion.

Duncan: Why keep Scalloway secondary department building open and not have the other local primaries put there (Hamnavoe, Tingwall, Whiteness, Nesting).

Budge: We are only proposing to close single teacher schools because due to smal numbers single teacher can’t provide best opportunities for pupils to have access to more kids and more teachers.

10.45am: Shetland South member Billy Fox raises travel times.

Was it possible to do an exercise to see how many children fell outside target travel times?

Budge: There are children currently travelling outside these times.

In the proposals we have not yet gone into that level of detail and look for alternative routes.

Eg From Scousburgh the journey involves a taxi and a bus.

10.43am: Lerwick South member Peter Campbell asks a pertinment question.

Chief executive was ordered in 2010 to find savings that would have been made from closing North Roe and Burravoe from eslewhere in the council.

Budge says they still cost money to run, that’s why they’re included now.

North Isles member Gary Cleaver asks does £1,000 per pupil come into effect now or in 2014.

Budge: Savings are for next year, so all of that money will have had to be saved by March 2014.

Cleaver: Re. empty buildings, Uyeasound is being currently sold. Is there a firm offer? 

Budge: It’s an offer but I do believe there is interest.

10.40am: North isles member Steven Coutts questions whether Mid Yell can now provide educational benefit for Burravoe pupils, as that was a reason not to allow closure last year.

Budge: Yes, following the new inspection of Mid Yell reported yesterday.

Aith secondary department has 120 pupils.

10.37am: North Isles member Robert Henderson is asking questions.

Budge: Whalsay has 54 pupils at JHS.

54 secondary teaching staff would be affected by these clsoures.

26% of those might not be able to find posts initially, but over three years we would be able to find them places, redundancy or retirement.

Disused buildings: It’s difficult to go into detail as that copuld be seen by Scottish minister as a reason to call in the proposal.

In Uyeasound we are in process of selling that building and a feasibility study is being made into the Scalloway building.

Teacher pupil ration for Shetland is 9.2 pupils per teacher, the lowest pupil teacher ration in Scotland. In AHS it’s 10.1 pupils per teacher, higher than rest of Shetland.

10.33am: Council leader Gary Robinson asks how many temporary staff there are.

Budge: 123.

Robinson: What would be impact of losing £1,000 per pupil.

Budge: Andreson High would lose £880,000 the equivalent of 19.8 teachers.

At Dunrossness the primary would lose £100,000, reducing teaching staff by 2.2, so couldn’t offer classes as class size would be too big.

We could remove all operating costs and one teacher, so couldn’t provide education at that school.

10.30am: Lerwick North membere Allan Wishart asks about timescale.

Budge says they can only manage four consultations a year. First on the list would be Aith, Skerries and Olnafirth.

Wishart: Today this is only the start of the process.

Will today’s debate include “hub and spoke” discussed by old council.

Budge: If alternative schemes come forward that could save money it would be looked at.

However all the proposals have to come to committee and full council.

10.27am: Lerwick South member Jonathan Wills why Baltasound is not being proposed for consultation.

Budge says that Baltasound will be removed after all. Seems she meant four junior highs rather than five.

Wills thinks it’s unfair on the other junior highs.

Budge says the council could still consider a closure proposal.

Wills: We could consider Baltasound without breaching the law. Budge: Yes, we could.

10.24am: Budge thanks staff for the work they have done to provide more detailed figures for this meeting.

Savings so far identified amount to £3.588 million (more than required).

But children’s services remains at 38% of SIC total spend.

Not making changes would mean reducing spend on each pupil by £1,000.

Consultations will all have to come back to the council for further approval.

10.20am: Budge says they were “tasked” to carry out this work.

Eleven years of consultation has always highlighted the need for change.

Taking all the information into account there is still a need for change.

Childrens services has managed to absorb cuts without affecting school estate.

However £3.429 savings can’t be found without further change.

She recommends closing FIVE junior highs and five primaries, despite Baltasound being off the table at education and families last week.

10.17am:Wishart introduces the paper on the consultation asking childresn services director to present the report.

Bell has reminded evryone they are not voting to close schools today or to force children to make long bus journeys. It is about consultation.

10.14am: We are going through minutes of previous meetings before we get to the main debate.

That didn’t take long. The debate is now underway.

Education and families chair Vaila Wishart moves that Olnafirth becomes part of the main consultation.

10:09: Introductions to the new chief executive Mark Boden and a thankyou to Alistair Buchan who is leaving next month.

The council’s accounts have been approved by Audit Scotland and he thanks staff for their work.

Bell says this meeting is very much in the public eye.

Many expect us not to be up to the task and that we will fall at the first hurdle.Let’s prove them wrong.

10:05am: Convener Malcolm Bell has paid a touching tribute to former councillor Bill Smith.

Councilolors Allison Duncan and Frank Robertson are joining the meeting via a phone link so they can vote.

Petitions have been handed in from Whalsay, Skerries and Aith.

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