News / Communities vow to fight for their schools

Skerries school - Photo: ShetNews

TWO SHETLAND communities are preparing to oppose proposals that would see the closure of their schools by summer of next year.

Shetland Islands Council hopes to save almost £170,000 per annum by closing the 13 pupil Olnafirth primary school, in Voe, as well as the secondary department of the tiny school on the island of Out Skerries.

The two schools are the first of four secondary and five primary schools earmarked for closure between 2014 an 2016 under plans to save a total of £3million from the schools’ budget.

It is the sixth time since the 1990s that the small Skerries community is faced with the prospect of secondary education being withdrawn and transferred to the high school in Lerwick. There are currently three pupils in the department.

In December 2010 the school won a reprieve when councillors voted narrowly to keep it open.

The chairwoman of the school’s parent council, Denise Anderson, said the community was getting ready for yet another battle.


Referring to recommendations made by the Commission for Rural Education and published last month, Mrs Anderson said local authorities were advised not to make another attempt at closing the school for another five years.

She said the community was already organising meetings to discuss the proposals and prepare themselves for the official consultation meeting on 7 June when council officials and elected members are due to visit the tiny island.

In addition, Skerries are also facing the prospect of a reduced ferry service, she said.

 “There is never peace; you never feel secure in your home. There are people building houses in the island and there are at least three to four children being born over the next few months.

“It is the same old story. Why are they keeping revisiting us when we have saved it every time?

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“This is now the sixth time; and we are just continuing to fight back,” she said.

Meanwhile David McDowall, vice-chairman of the Olnafirth parent council, said the estimated savings were not worth the disruption the closure of the school would impose on the community.

“In the case of Olnafirth the savings would be £91,309. That’s 2.8 per cent of the savings they are trying to make.

“To me, that’s an awful big price to pay for such a small return, because this is a resource this community will lose permanently, and it disrupts education in a very well performing school with very happy children.”

He added that the savings would shrink over coming years as the transport cost to take pupils to nearby Brae would inevitably continue to rise.

McDowall said the idea to close the small school was first mooted as far back as 2004.


“It has been a constant threat, they do not seem able or willing to leave the school alone, despite the fact that the savings they are hoping to get are very, very small,” he said.

And he promised that the community would put together a “robust” case in favour of keeping the school open when the community meets education officials during a public meeting on 29 May.

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

The primary schools in Burravoe, North Roe and Urafirth, including its nursery department, will be scrutinized during 2014, to be followed by Whalsay secondary school and Sandness primary school in 2015.

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