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News / Live: Future of island education

SHETLAND Islands Council is debating the future of secondary education of the island junior high schools on Yell, Unst and Whalsay and whether to convert them to s1 to s3 establishments. They will also be deciding whether to close Bressay primary school.

Shetland News is reporting live from the council chamber, firstly from the education and families meeting which starts at 10am and then from the full SIC meeting at 2pm, where final decisions will be made.

The papers for the meeting are available here.

Cooper says Bressay should not become a political football and will need more than six weeks to turn around. His concern is the need to find someone in Bressay to invigorate the community, and historically when the council has gone in to do that it has had very little success.

A Wishart asks if there is any assurance that the school can be mothballed rather than sold off. Budge refers to legal advice that you either mothball or go to statutory consultation, but retaining the school building could be fed into the consultation.

Gary Robinson adds as chair of the executive committee he is sympathetic to keeping the school building.

Stout re-emphasises that if there is a solution here it about helping the community find the answers themselves and that is a clear distinction from how the council has acted in the past. There is no simple solution here, but what I am reassured about is that we are in a position to understand some of the complexities and we want to empower the community and not impose a solution.

Flea congratulates Bressay on the opening of its football pitch, which shows that where there is a will there is a way.

The motion is approved. Now we are being kicked out while councillors talk airstrips on Unst. Now what could that be about?

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2.25pm – Members have also agreed to defer any decision about the financial consequences of any decision about the island junior highs.

We move onto the Bressay primary and she proposes the consultation on closing the school takes place on 30 September; George Smith seconds.

Allan Wishart comments on how Bressay got to this stage: most people in Bressay agree its problem is that it’s too close to Lerwick, so that while money has been lavished on other islands Bressay has been largely neglected and we are where we are now because of that neglect. Bressay is neither an island or a suburb of Lerwick.

Most people in Bressay will understand why this has happened but the question is what do we do abot it now. There are people who will look at this and see what we can do – we need a fixed link and in the meantime I think we should look at no fares for Bressay residents! Bell says: “That’s your committee, Allan.”

Michael Stout says economic development have promised to help as much as they can, and the school should be retained so one day it can thrive again. As a council we are taking our responsibilities seriously and looking for long term solutions, and fully support Wishart’s proposal.

Allison Duncan: I thought Allan Wishart wanted to make savings, that doesn’t appear to be the case from that statement.

Here we go, Billy Fox says it costs as much as to come in from the west side as Bressay, Shetland’s only park and ride scheme (laughter). The real issue is the fact that folk work in Lerwick.

2.18pm – The meeting has begun! He is introducing a new urgent item about Baltasound airstrip, but we are to be kicked out for that so news will have to wait.

He hands over to Vaila Wishart who says the committee proposed deferring a decision on the future of the island junior high schools until November, and she outlines the proposals which we shall publish in full after the meeting. George Smith seconds.

Alastair Cooper says he understands further external consultants will be brought it and wants to now what is it going to cost and where is the money going to come from. 

Helen Budge says they do not yet know what it will involve or how much it will cost yet, but it will be within existing resources and this year’s budget. She will email thos efigures out to members as soon as they are known.

Bell invites a debate, but no one has anything to say. So it’s a done deal.

2pm – Convener Malcolm Bell has told the assembled councillors the meeting will commence 10 minutes late to give staff time to type up the decisions from this morning’s education and families committee meeting, which went on in private until 1.30pm. A long day for some of these guys, but no one is expecting this bit to last long…though you never can tell.

12.16pm – Cleaver asks for an understanding of the trends that led Bressay to where it is and looking for ways to mitigate that is embedded ino the motion. Robinson says that is not necessary. Cleaver invites a seconder to back him, but no one does.

So Bressay school’s consultation starts at the end of the month, and the decision about the island junior high schools has been deferred until November by which time further detailed informal consultation will have taken place, the details of which we shall provide later.

Finance director James Gray is now going over how well the department is doing meeting its spending targets.

12.12pm – Fox wonders if running the two consultations in parallel is legal. Budge suggests that it could be done, by the community development discussions being fed into the school consultation.

Stout: this is a very difficult one and it highlights where statutory process does not fit well with the reality on the ground. But he is reassured that something positive can come out of this process.

Sandison is “sufficiently reassured” not push his amendment forward. Neil Grant provides assurances economic development will do all they can to help.

The motion is changed to delay the consultation to start on 28 September.

12.07pm – Vaila Wishart moves the recommendation with “a heavy heart”. Robinson seconds.

Stout says the warning signs have been there for a long time, such as during the STAG appraisal for a bridge. The lesson is to look at the warning signals and try and find ways to meet upcoming needs, identifying problems before they happen.

Robinson echoes those comments, adding that he does not want to preempt to consultation but the executive committee should look at the school building being retained for the future.

George Smith says if this can happen to Bressay, it could happen anywhere and the council needs to be very aware of what can lead to the destruction of community.

Sandison has an amendment, to defer going towards a formal consultation to allow time to explore why things are not working in this community and why issues have not been fully addressed. He suggests deferring until the end of this financial year, which will put less pressure on council staff when they are already busy.

Fox will second that if it can be a shorter period than the end of the financial year. Sandison is happy to epxlore that, the date was off the top of his head.

Budge says consultation would come back at Christmas and then Scottish minister has six weeks to decide whether to call it in and has an indeterminate time to make a final decision once it has been called it in. If this goes on until next year there will just be three pupils there. Sandison says that timescale should not predetermine their thinking.

George Smith calls for compromise. As part of the consultation, find out why this community is not thriving, he suggest. Budge says that could work if the consultation was delayed until 28 September to allow community development meetings to take place. Sandison says that would be helpful.

Cleaver gives notice of a further amendment.

11.56am – Legal chief Jan Riise says the committee can ask the council to retain the building for possible future uses.

Theo Smith joins the meeting (he is not on the commitee).If the school is closed, will the four remaining children be transported to Lerwick and what affect would that have on the other children? Budge says the catchment area of Bells Brae would be increased to cover Bressay so that they coud be transported by the council.

Campbell asks if Bressay can be transported within acceptable travel time of 40 minutes. Budge says yes. Campbell understands it will take well over 40 minutes, based on the experience of Anderson High School pupils. Budge says a bus system would be arranged to meet the time limits.

Sandison asks if anything is being done to look at childcare on the island, which is one reason kids are being educated in Lerwick. Budge says parents said they were not taking children to Lerwick just for childcare arrangements. It was much more about continuing in the same school as children they had been with in pre-school. Sandison says that is the point. If there was childcare in Bressay that would alleviate the problem.

Economic development director Neil Grant says provision of childcare is a major part of the Single Outcome Agreement and is being actioned. So it’s being looked at.

11.45am – Stout asks about the timescale of disposing of the school building. Budge says that forms part of the consultation process and the decision would remain with the council at the end of the day.

Stout says it is a sad situation but he is cntent that all the questions have been answered, but asks about transporting a four year old from the back of Bressay to Lerwick. Budge says council is only obliged to transport pupils once they reach primary school. There are emergency facilities for children in this position.

Robinson asks if the school is mothballed, would the parents have to pay for their own transport. Budge says that would only happen if the school was mothballed and that is not going to happen, which is why they are going to consult on closure.

George Smith comments on the decline of pupil numbers from 40 some years ago and the need to understand why this has happened, and how community and economic development will address this. He wants something more concrete than sending in a community development worker to meet residents. Could ferry fares be an issue, for example?

Stout says Bressay community council is very aware of the deeper issues and the community recognises the school closure is a symptom of a wider problem and the community needs to be involved in finding solutions. He would wlecome the council being more proactive, but given the circumstances there are not toom many immediate optioons, but long term there coud be ways of addressing the problems possibly thought the consultation process. It would not take many people to move in to open the school again.

11.40am – Now on to Bressay school. Budge recommends statutory consultation on the school’s future starts on 23 September. There are 15 pupils, 11 of whom have sought placements in Lerwick. Four is not enough to run a school. Mothballing is not posible because the roll has to be zero, she says.

Cleaver asks the current level of pre-school children. Budge does not have exact number, but all the three and four year olds are not going to the nursery, but mainly to partner providers mainly in Lerwick.

Fox asks if there is any latitude on mothballing. Budge says they have asked legal staff and Scottish government. Reducing the school roll to zero would allow it to be mothballed so that it could reopen in the future, but the advice is that pupils should not be pressured to leave the school against their will.

Sandison says he believes it is parents’ work circumstances that are taking children out of Bressay. Is the placement system robust enough to refuse requests, he asks. Budge says it is, and that there is enough room in all schools so they can’t refuse requests. There are still four places left in Lerwick for the other Bressay children.

Sandison says this contradicts what has always been said about there not being enough room in Lerwick for more primary pupils. Budge says it is more to do with the physical size of classrooms in Sound school. Wishart confirms that after a visit there last week.

11.31am – Peter Campbell raises the concerns about they way young people have been consulted and asks that advice be sought on asking appropriate questions and seeking parental permission.

Budge says they will look to engage with pupil councils at the next rounf, whereas previously they were not in place. She outlines how young folk are engaged with without parental permission, but in future parents will be made aware of any consultation about to take place.

Wishart says the views of young people are very important.

Tregonning says he knows of a situation where two pupils went to a school, only one was consulted, and they had no idea that was about to happen.

Wishart is keen to move on, but Sandison raises a question about disproportionate number of principal teachers and wants that looked at. Budge provides assurances.

Stout says he gets the financial pressure the council is under, but says this is so important it is a good decision to spend more time to make the best decision and welcomes the postponement.

11.25am – Now we move on, unexpectedly quickly. Children’s service director Helen Budge introduces the report about switching the islands chools to S1 to S3, cutting out S4 from junior highs in Yell, Unst and Whalsay.

The report was written before responses from an informal consultation were received. Now Vaila Wishart suggests there should be further informal discussions before bringing this back in November! Anyone opposing such a postponement should speak up, she says.

Budge says must look at telepresence model, a hub and spoke  model and status quo. Queries aklso raised about federated schoos model and she understand there are legal obstacles. Some contextual information needs to be developed by October holidays, looking at advantages of different models of S1-3, S1-4 and S1-6.

Financial context will also be set out, comparing with other local authorities, especially other islands. The timeline is very tight and additional support might be required, she says. Detailed timescales are being read out, too quickly to report now. We will find out the timescale and publish shortly.

Wishart says given we all have the same aim to provide the best, she moves postponing the decision, follow the recommendation to carry out more of a review and come back to the November meeting.

Now at last the debate. This is going to be a long meeting.

Martin Tregonning says he sometimes perceives that Shetland overprovides ASN, which makes it more of a target for cuts, which is very dangerous. You judge a society about how it treats its most vulnerable people, and these are the most vulnerable fo the vulnerable. He says he knows of people who move in and out of ASN needs, and Shetland is addressing a broader range of needs, picking up more people with more needs.

11.18am – We have high success rates in external exams, he says, and part of that is what we are doing for ASN pupils, especially at the edges where it is easy to say we are being overgenerous. The education department does not budget for the long term costs of not providing support and he wants to make sure any review of the service only looks at cost efficiencies. He would fight “tooth and nail” to maintain front line services. One reason Shetland is attractive is quality of its ASN.

The report is passed without dissent.

11.11am – Davie Sandison wants to know the action plan will provide a better service for less money. Audrey Edwards says that is “a given”.

Gary Cleaver supports use of IT and technology – his iPad has meant he no longer has to tune his video machine! His concern is that in the past the SIC has gone to deliver a service and instead of delivering it with one they have done it with three, thinking it would make it three times better. He asks if the SIC has enough of a grasp to deliver on IT/tech solutions rather than people solutions.

Macleod says there are opportunties for children to learn through tablet computers etc, but he did not examine the level of ICT staffing within the SIC. Ideas include using communication technology could be used to save travelling time, electronic surgeries to look at problems children are experiencing to make optimum use of time and save money.

Stout says he is delighted to see this, but is told to shut up as he is not aksing a question.

Peter Campbell says, enigmatically, he is delighted that wise men don’t always have to come from the east? Presumably a reference to MacLeod’s origins. He asks how important al this is. MacLeod says if you don’t adress disaffection early and secure participation in learning you end up with more not involved in education and training. For a community the long term cost of that and risks to young people of criminality drift and marginalisation are very great indeed. therefore kt’s worth investing in, and he cautions against cutting rather than investing in this area.

11.01am – Rodina Mackay asks about how teachers are supposed to cope with these changes with all the stresses they are under. MacLeod says teachers themselves need support, the prevailing emphasis should be collaboration and consultation for CPD (continual professional development). Teachers should be seeking out that support and the authority should be providing it. He ahs met teachers who said they didn’t believe they could help certain children, but they have managed to do that. That needs to be nurtured.

10.55am – Gary Robinson asks whether there is a need to involve school staff to ensure early intervention rather than just involving management. MacLeod says there shoud be no sense that is optional for managers to engage with these issues, and managers should ensure all of their staff are trained in these areas. Teachers need to know the legislative framework they are working in, in an increasingly litiginous society and to look after the children.

Andrea Manson asks are we spending too much money on duplicating and not getting it right. MacLeod says he actually believes here is an awful lot of good practice and a lot of committed individuals doing a lot of good work with children with very challenging needs. There are things that need to be sorted. He says the authority is generously provided for, but he is not saying they are not getting it right, but there is a need to address weaknesses and make sure there are improvements over time.

The issue is fragmentation. ASN is designed to bring together support services to deal with constantly changing needs. Therefore a coherent framework is needed that does not lock them into particular boxes or into a resource when they no longer need it.

10.47am – Billy Fox asks if the council has been identifying need where need does not exist. Macleod won’t go that far, but he would say that the concept of ASN is so broad and the needs of children can change so quickly. Technology can be very useful to meet children’s needs, he says. “If I can use this tool, maybe I don’t need this person.”

Fox has personal experience of a pupil being told they needed a reader for an exam when they didn’t want it. He wants that sort of thing to be recognised, regarding it as a danger within a preventatoive model. Looking for problems where none exist.

MacLeod says that is an example why you need consistent quality assurance – better dialogue wth schools and families should over time address that kind of probem.

Fox goes on, Shetland relies a lot on ouside agencies like Disability Shetland providing a summer playscheme that used to be provided by the council at a raction of the cost. MacLeod says one recommendation is around multi agency working and collaborating with both voluntary and public sector to make sure we are doing the best for every child. The loss of the playscheme was raised by parents as a matter of significant concern so DS providing that service is very important.

10.41am – Michael Stout now welcomes the report. He asks given the upheaval that is potentially coming to education, how will ASN be affected? Is MacLeod comforatble the action plan can cope with the impact of school closures.

MacLeod says a time of significant change is an opportunity to build these principle into the fabric of education. Eg could look at providing more co-location of services; there may be opportunities to revisit way in whcih current buildings enable or get in the way of creatve curriculum planning – not just in square boxes or single buildings, but muc more diverse. Doing that well the SIC would save money in the long term, ie children becoming less disaffected so less expensive to look after long term financially and socially.

These changes could be implemented more efectively at a time of significant change.

Stout follows up: how should this be implemented with the new high school in Lerwick. MacLeod says opportunity should be seized and if necessary make the changes.

10.35am – George Smith thanks MacLeod for the honesty and clarity in his report. He asks about creating a dependency culture. MacLeod highlights the danger of developing such a culture, where child and family are becoming too dependent on a service or staff, or staff feel they can only work with a child of they have certain levels of support. Doesn’t foster independence being looked for.

Any action plan must have a clear focus on challenge and growth towards as much independence as possible, as well as keep them safe. That won’t hapen if all we do is provide support and an ambulance service.

10.31am – Gary Cleaver says he was struck some time ago was figures of children and young people that have a special need and it seemed to be very high – 26% or so. Are we working with a very high level of need, or is that the national pattern.

An education officer says there are 44 children with multiple and complex needs, making it more like 1.4%. There are more receiving some kind of support.

Cleaver asks again how many have some contact or use of resource from ASN. Officer says the full range of children with support needs is 241, but the wider range of children needing emotional support of some sort is over 400.

Cleaver says he does not have a good overall understanding of the figures, so he lets it go. More figures – there are 85 at highest level of need, and 156 at moderate level of need. Cleaver asks for the figures to be presented in a better way, rather than “a numb percentage which hasn’t been broken down”.

10.24am – Wishart opens the floor to questions. Martin Tregonning asks about the system of accreditation for schools. MacLeod gives the example of a school having a badge for being autism friendly, but wonders whether it will be six years down the road. His suggestions show how the authority could support the school to make sure it keeps its badge.

You can’t do everything right away. He suggests setting targets over time to become genuinely inclusive for all young people.

Davie Sandison welcomes the report and says it seems to be highlighting structural or management deficiencies, a lack of coordination, rather than a lack of respurces. Has this caused significant extra cost, he wonders.

MacLeod suspects there was unnecessary expenditure due to duplication. Different managers working towards the same area, so schools needing help contact different people who all get involved instead of having a more streamlined response.

10.17am – A reactive model leaves you with expensive casualties, and it is better to have a preventative model. It’s also important to develop a curriclum which is important to every single child, we don’t plan with this percentage of children in mind and then wonder what to do with the others.

Curriculum for Excellence allows schools to be imaginative and creative to recognise values and reward for all children.

He wants to develop a long term action plan to drive forward consistency, coherence and equity and model of practice across the authority.

10.13 – MacLeod says he is pleased to be here, thanks everyone for the welcome he received and the openness of people he spoke to. He hopes he has provided a framework that does justice to what they have said.

His report outline strengths, which shows that this authority is in a position of considerable strnegth in meeting the needs of children with ASN and have been developed with help of parents, children and staff working together. The authority is building on strengths and not risks and weaknesses, however in the course of the review he engaged with a considerable number of issues – big and small.

His dilemma is whether to produce a report that raises every single issue, and decided it would be better to distil what the SIC needed to address. Two overarching issues:

– achieving consistency and coherenec so that chioldren and young people will find an equitable experience wherever they are, and it seemed there was a lack of consistency and coherence;
– the model to which people were working in terms of meeting ASN, and there are always two options: to wait for a crisis and then reacting, and it seems there are traces of that, and a preventative and anticipatory model.

Every school should anticipate it will encounter children with ASN of a wide range, such as autism or emotional issues and should be prepared. There is a need to drive that forward.

10am – the meeting begins chaired by Vaila Wishart with parents from several of the threatened schools attending both inside the chamber and watching by video link from upstairs in the town hall’s main room.

First item of the agenda is additional support needs, with a report by senior education officer Audrey Edwards. A review carried out by Professor Donnie MacLeod from the Centre for Inclusion and Equality, who is to address the meeting about management arrangements and other aspects of ASN education to work more effectively and efficiently.

The target savings are £500,000 this year, already saved £601,000. But looking for a better service for children with ASN.

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