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School closure talks start next week

Olnafirth is the first primary school to be considered for closure under the council's latest attack on the school estate.

THE LONG awaited consultation on closing two Shetland schools begins next week.

The secondary department on the isle of Skerries and Olnafirth primary school in Voe are the first of four secondary schools and five primaries to be scrutinised under plans to slash the size of Shetland’s school estate to save £3 million.

Shetland Islands Council agreed last year to consult on closing secondaries in Skerries, Aith, Sandwick and Whalsay as well as primaries in Sandness, Olnafirth, Urafirth, North Roe and Burravoe as part of the Blueprint for Education review.

The consultation was delayed until the Commission for Rural Education reported its findings last month.

Skerries faces its sixth battle since 2000 to keep its secondary, the smallest in Scotland, open.

For some schools, including Skerries, this is the sixth time they have had to battle to save their school since 2000.

The last attempt to close it two years ago was defeated after a last minute socio-economic report showed that closing the school would eventually cost the council more than keeping it open, if it led to young families leaving the island.

Parent council chairwoman Denise Anderson said islanders were “living on the edge all the time” due to the uncertainty about the future of the secondary department.

“The school is the heart of the community and we are very disappointed we are up for closure again,” she said.

SIC education and families committee chairwoman Vaila Wishart says the council faces some tough financial decisions.

However SIC education and families committee chairwoman Vaila Wishart said the council could no longer afford to keep its small schools open.

“I know it’s unpleasant, but we are, as everyone knows, in a pretty difficult financial position as a council,” she said.

“We have to consider ways of saving quite a lot of money and one of the big spenders is education and that’s why we have to look at reducing the size of the school estate.”

A new report by the council’s finance director has revealed that the expansion of the education and social work departments over the past few years has been largely responsible for the council living beyond its means.

As a result the SIC is seeking a 20 per cent cut in its overall annual budget, with education expected to provide one tenth of the £30 million savings target by closing schools.

Consultation on Skerries and Olnafirth begins on 14 May when the proposals will be published on the council’s website, and ends on 28 June.

There will be four public meetings at Anderson High School on 28 May at 7pm; at Voe public hall on 29 May at 7pm; at Brae public hall on 30 May at 7pm and at Skerries public hall on 7 June at noon.

The results of the consultation will be sent to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education, which will report back in October.

The consultation will be debated in December, with any decision to close either of the two schools being implemented the following summer.

Consultation on Aith and Sandwick secondary schools begins in September this year.

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