We are live at Lerwick Town Hall as hundreds of people protest with placards and banners outside ahead of the crunch families and education meeting to decide on the future of secondary education in the isles. Please excuse any spelling/grammatical mistakes. We shall do our best to report developments accurately as they happen. Here goes:
The council meeting is due to commence at 2.15pm where the committee decision will be voted upon. If it goes ahead the Ledingham report will be accepted with one change – Aith and Sandwick will retain S1 & 2 pupils.
4.44pm – Cleaver moves an amendment to keep S1-4 in all JHS schools with two high schools with a robust and wide-ranging telepresence model making it work. Coutts seconds. Wills leaves the room. (Big rumble)
He thinks its evident there is a unity across Shetland that desires to develop and actually honour our commitment to the corporate plan; by keeping it local we absolutely fit in with those. Within variast of spend we have got her with absolute uncertainty about what out budget position is we should not be cowed from taking on an entirely different way of doing our education here. Hub and spoke would be better. Just moving to S1/2 is a “mini me” model, and hub and spoke would provide a modern flexible way of delivering CfE in communities, when transport costs are going to go up every year. We owe it to our communities to keep our children where they should be. If that costs a bit more, it’s worth it. I don’t buy all this Audit Commission stuff, they won’t send in a hit squad. We can argue this and we have to have the guts to do it.
George Smith initially had a lot of sympathy for hub and spoke, but after listening to Prof Ledingham it’s clear to me that S1-4 is not best educational model when we have decided to offer seven national exams at S4. We should design a system to suit the majority of learners who aspire to move on to S5/6. We need to think about how we support the minority who do not fit in, for example look at how we design school day/week. Allow three nights at home rather than two for island kids.
Roll call vote: only Coutts and Henderson support Cleaver.
Cooper and Cleaver withdraw their amendments. The meeting is over. We move to consultation on keeping S1/2 in all the junior highs.
4.30pm – George Smith says £600,000 is a good price to pay for equal education across Shetland and refutes suggestion it is in breach of educational policy.
They vote – only four people vote for Wills amendment (wills, Ratter, Vaila and Allan Wishart).
4.27pm – Summing up, Wills says this will cost an extra £600,000 and breach financial policy. People who know more about education say these proposals will be excellent educationally. We ahve been accused of reducing the quality of education, it will improve it.
He has a go at Robert Henderson who suggested closing the Global Classroom, saying it is hugely successful and costs almost nothing.
We are not giving communities a good kicking, we are giving them the best educational opportunities.
He says the education service is not about retaining the economy in rural areas, and the council can’t afford it.
The hostel is not the prisoner of war camp it was – we are asking people to send their children to one of the best schools in Britain.
This proposal is not sustainable. We have to finally decide if we will stick to our own policies. If George is right, the closures will be called in when there is ample opportunity to take those issues up.
4.20pm – Steven Coutts says families are as important as schools in children’s upbringing and education. Big rumble. He has a real concern about splitting families; the hostel is not a bad environment, but at the same time it’s not a home. Bairns are involved in all kinds of things in their communities which they won’t be able to do if they are not there. His real concern is that there should be choice, not compulsion. (The biggest rumble yet).
Flea: family life begins at home and backs George Smith. It would be wrong to force young children to make such long bus journeys.
Cecil Smith: a decision has to be taken today. I would like us to ‘engage’ more with the communities, rather than just consult. He is happy with the changes to George’s amendment. He was concerned that an extra couple of hundred grand would be taken out of his (social services) committee.
4.10pm – Frank Robertson and Michael Stout have both said they will support George Smith.
Gary Robinson said the most important thing is to get stability. He agrees that we need to know why education costs so much more in Shetland. He is concerned about the reference to taking money out of the reserves.
George Smith rejects idea financial policy is being breached, but would be prepared to change his motion so that they look for a report on how much more would need to be saved once statutory consultation has been concluded if his proposal to keep S1 and 2 in Aith and Sandwick is agreed.
Theo Smith says once again we are being tied up with finance, but we are talking about another consultation. Let’s wait until that has been concluded.
3.54pm – Alastair Cooper says we could be jumping the gun. He supports George Smith, if he took out the reference to taking the money from reserves or other departments.
Flea asks for roll call vote. Agreed.
Ratter: this is not sustainable without taking money from elsewhere. Over the past couple of decades, all councils have not taken on the loudest shouters and it keeps coming round at ever shorter intervals with more drastic consequences. Bairns in North Nesting leave home at 7.30am to go to the “institute” and just get on with it.
Our spend per pupil is at the top end even if we agree to this, and this is because we have six JH schools teaching 400 bairns.
Fox revisits comparison with western isles. Their costs should be much higher, but there is no explanation. I suggest that is where we should be looking first. (Rumble). He supports George Smith’s motion.
Cleaver: this is the first report we can analyse and the only conclusion we can make is we don’t know where the money goes and we need to find out. Savings have been made already and we don’t know what the latest figures are, and we may find out that we don’t need to make this level of savings in education. We are improving and will continue to improve. Lret’s not be too dogmatic, we might live to regret it.
3.41pm – Wills describes this as “a fudge”. There have been five consultations in the past 10 years. We are elected to make decisions. We have too many schools. We have heard from experts this is the way to go, yet it is proposed we ognore this advice and fail to save £600,000 that will have to come from elsewhere and I don’ see where.
Given the choice of a bus to take their children to a new school to do eight subject choices, will they take that or settle for a second best add on to a primary school. I also want a sustainable eduication system which is afforadble, and George’s suggestion is not.
We will breach council policy on education and finance. If we pass the buck elsewhere it will be gross financial irresponsibility. Last year we were selling £100,000 a day in stock to pay wages that ouwld have generated £5,000. NOw its £50,000 and if we go on like this the government will send in the commissioner and you will find you have fewer schools.
This is a test of you sticking to your policy, so I hope you vote for the original recommendations.
3.35pm – George Smith: moves recommendations. Education is the most valuable thing an individual can gain, and this is a difficult debate for everybody. We owe it to Shetland to produce a sustainable system for schools. We have already saved £7m. If we approve the report we will be spending 32% of budget on schools, and others spend an average of 39%. We have other things to spend money on, but is the dilemma we have.
We can’t take much more out of school budgets, if we do it will drastically effect education and I can’t support further savings here. Transition is best avoided completely for the best education, but that is not possible due to Shetland’s geography, and S2 is the best stage if it has to be done.
Communities have said they want thier schools open, so we should keep the JHS schools open and have an equitable education provision for all of them.
3.26pm – We move to the debate.
George Smith moves recommendations from this morning’s meeting. Frank Robertson seconds. Wills moves the original report, Ratter seconds.
3.23pm – Theo Smith says the one thing that is not being mentioned is Brae and Sandwick is going to have more pupils soon.Is it not time that we looked at Brae for savings?
Budge says there placing requests for the AHS from some of the JH schools, which could reduce the numbers at Sandwick. Brae has been looked at, she says, but councillors have not asked for Brae to be looked at for change. Smith says it is something that should be looked at in the future.
Frank Robertson asks how much pupils attending JHS would be disadvantaged compared to high schools. Budge says there have always been fewer courses at JHS.
Cleaver again: if we were looking at delivering shared lessons with fewer teachers in more rural areas with smaller class sizes, why do we need to kit out seven rooms in schools when we could fit them in a broom cupboard?
Wills: does financial strategy prevent us passing £600,000 to another department? Gray: the idea is targets are for each directorate, which in this case is children’s services as a whole. Wills: if that plan is council policy, this would breach it? Boden: The assumption is that the money will be found from elsewhere in children’s services. Wills says he will move the original motion when the time comes.
Sandison asks what the impact could be on tertiary education. Gray: does not think spend on the colleges would go up following the review.
3.09pm – Robert Henderson asks why costs have gone up over the past two years when they have been tring to save money. Gray: costs in general are going up and number of pupils are going down, so cost per pupil tends to go up anyway.
Henderson: teacher/pupil ration is bigger in Shetland than Orkney. That equates to 48 more teachers at a cost of £1.2m. If we had a better pupil/teacher ratio we could save that money. Budge says we could have a higher ratio if we had bigger schools with more children.
Mark Burgess asks if specialist teachers would travel to the remoter schools. Ledingham says there are different ways of dealing with that, including using specialist teachers in primary schools. This is a matter best decided by heads and staff in consultation with parent councils.
Cleaver says there is still no explanation as to why education is more expensive in Shetland than the other island groups. How can we get any understanding of the cost impact of any decision we make. Gray: staff costs are greater, school buildings are bigger per pupil. Cleaver asks if these figures are not real money but an accounting device – no, he is told. This is real money, what was actually spent.
2.57pm – Steven Coutts said it would be interesting to have had a case study for a bairm that could not cope with the hostel. Ledingham says he has experience of that, and head teachers, parents, local community, staff have put things in place for that individual such as home study, home support and even work with local employers. There are few individuals involved, and system needs to be flexible enough to cater for them, but at the same time able to cater for the majority.
Wills again: on finance. Can a recommendation from a committee that drives a £600,000 bus through the finance policy, is that legal. Bell says that will only become a factor when a decision is made on actually closing schools or changing the system, this is a strategic document. Chief executive Mark Boden says the constitution does allow for it – he suggest councillors bear in mind that £3.26m figure was never met by these proposals. A further £916,000 would have to come from elsewhere anyway. He says it is competent to change the strategy.
Wills: Curriculum for Excellence is council policy and therefore not to extend it to all pupils would go against that policy. Yes, Budge says.
Stout: surely we should ask what specifically are we spending that extra money on before we make any decision on changing education. Gray: these are global figures. Stout: we are being told we have to close schools to save money, so we should know we are not wasting money before we decide not close schools (rumble upstairs again).
Budge: we have fewer pupils, we have been taking out support staff and saved £7m already. We have taken staff out, we are sharing staff more, also looking at catering and cleaning staff. We are looking at efficiencies, operating costs but we can’t keep the number of schools and staff and make these savings without affecting levels of education.
Stout still doesn’t understand why Shetland spends so much more, that is the problem.
2.43pm – Drew Ratter is totally supportive of linking schools and colleges and in the past resistance has come from schools. Ledingham says that was before Curriculum for Excellence, which has a much more rounded approach that “changes the imperative”. He says he took the willingness of the coleges as read, and amongst the school staff there is a real willingness to engage.
Ratter says given mid term finance plan adopted twice, what mechanisms exist to remove money from one place to put it somewhere else. Gray says that is a legal issue – target operating budgets are there, so SIC will have to revise its medium term financial plan. The other pasrt of the council have met their obligations.
Ratter: will there be provision for people who don’t want to send their children to an extended primary school, and he would have tried to get his children to the nearest high school. Budge says there are already requests to attend high school rather than their local JHS, and that would continue. Ratter says that should not be at parents’ expense, which is the current situation.
1.37pm – Jonathan Wills asks how much the changes suggested this morning will cost. He is told £600,000, which will have to be found elsewhere within the authority.
Cleaver asks about why it costs more to teach children in Shetland than elsewhere. Gray says he has looked into it during the lunchbreak – staff costs for Shetland were £13.69m; £8.38 Orkney; £11.68 in westrer isles. Building maintenance in Shetland was over £1m compared to around £300,000 elsewhere. School meals are £294,000 more expensive than Orkney and £44,000 more than western isles. Transport £1.163m, £1.48m in western isles but much less in Orkney.
Cleaver says the big headline must be buildings and maintenance and staff, but the thing is that buildings-wise we have the same amount of buildings. Gray: yes.
2.31pm -Convener Malcolm Bell opens the meeting by presenting a petition with 1,800 signatures against the proposals in the Ledingham report.
Budge take the mic. She says she won’t repeat her presentation from this morning, but thansk everyone for turning up and hands over to Don Ledingham.
Ledingham proposes to quickly cover the report. The approach is a practical vision based on the opportunities in Shetland which would be sustainable under the Curriculum for Excellence. He says his five scenarios describe real life examples from elsewhere in Scotland and demonstrate the importance and value of linkng academic and vocational curriculum to maximise opportunity.
A key thing that came through the consultation was a hybrid or blended approach – we need a long term strategic provision for secondary education.
The first element is linking schools and colleges to work together to create as many opportunities as possible for young people. He cites Sir Ian Woods report on developing opportunities for the young workforce; engagement with local businesses of real importance to Shetland. There is an opportunity to create something that would be unique and the envy of the rest of Scotland.
A Shetland Learning Campus – there was little support for telepresence, but there is for an interconnected learning experience, linked with youth policy, adult learning and the needs of the economy.
Rationalising the education service is the most controversial, but the status quo will limit opportunity. It would not be possible to link academic/vocational opportunities while tertiary education is facing a £600,000 cut next year without making changes.
He questioned his original idea that S3 was the best age for transition to high school after visiting Shetland and decided S2 was a better age.
One question is flexibility for individuals who do not fit in well to the system: that will be built in, he says.
Travel times are not ideal but this issue can be addressed.
1.30pm – Vaila Wishart is now summing up her recommendation, full of praise for schools and teachers, but further cuts will undermine the quality of education throughout Shetland. The status quo is not an option and we have to look at the school estate.
We need certainty. I don’t want to go to consultation on changing the age of transition at Aith and Sandwick and then have to go to consultation on closure later.
The vote: amendment 10, the motion 2 (Wishart and Robinson).
1.27pm – Tom MacIntyre backs the amendment saying there is a moral and human element here. Terrian is much more challenging in Shetland than where Ledingham comes from. Children need the connection of their communities up to 14. The council needs to revisit its budget.
Tregonning says we have failed in bringing the community with us and failed to provide equality of education. I am minded to support the amendment, though I still have concerns about sending bairns to AHS as young as 14. Financial black hole is not as bad as it seems – we have already saved £360 per pupil out of what we have already done – and one of the central costs is pension related and when you take that into account it’s only £1,700 per person.
Stout asks if the amendment could add protection for those children who don’t feel happy making the transition so young.
Smith says yes – this about trying to ensure we meet the needs of the vast majority of young folk, but there are always those that don’t fit in with the system. I take on board the ned for a flexible approach to young people that struggle.
Wishart says the system has to be flexible.
1.18pm – Wishart has moved the report, George Smith is moving an amendment – he says we have to make a decision today and education is of supreme importance. Spend on schools has been reduced by £7m and council policy says it needs another £3.25m. If we approve this we will spend 32% of our budget on schools, the Scottish average is 39%. That is irrefutable, but we spend more on other things like transport because we have to pay for ferries (8%).
We can’t take much more out of schools, it will mean less subject choices, equipment for all pupils etc. We can’t allow for any more savings for schools.
Shetland allows for seven national exams to be sat. That requires prior learning in S3. I take on board exciting links with schools and colleges and that the more sites we have the more difficult it will be, which will be hard for an S3 or S4 transition. S2 is best time for transition, but for whom? All communities have spoken loudly and clearly about keeping their schools kept open, so I propose we retain JHS schools but they all have S2 transition.
Frank Robertson seconds.
1.09pm – Gary Robinson agrees with Cleaver that we need a long term solution. After all these consultations opportunities have been missed. If a stitch in time saves nine, maybe now we need to save nine. How well money is spent is just as important how much is spent.
We have lots of empty spaces in schools that require heating and lighting, that is not sustainable. He accepts there are questions about the finance and does not understand why it costs so much more in Shetland than in the western isles, without it being reflected in exam results.
He supports Ledingham’s report. He says other departments have saved more, we need sustainable solution and I don’t want to come back in a few years time to have t do the same thing again.
Stout agrees with much of the report. Shetland has problems – having bairns away for significant amounts of time is fundamentally difficult to swallow. Why there is such strength of feeling is we believe educationally its better to put your bairns into a hostel. That mght be true, but for the parent there is not an element of choice! Lerwick constituents are concerned about cuts for them, but that is being met by building a new AHS. This is not about a two tier system, my concern is we are disempowering communities, that’s what concerns me greatly.
We have a financial problem here, but we are being told empty desk space is forcing us to close schools, but then we are being told we don’t know if that is why we are having to close schools. Hopefully we will get more financial detail this afternoon.
Campbell says we compare favourably with Orkney and the western isles on empty spaces in schools
12.59pm – Billy Fox is concerned that the process could not have got off to a worse start without speaking to the key stakeholders, the colleges. Tregonning agrees.
Wishart restricts denate for now on A and B – to form a partnership between tertiary and secondary and to create a Shetland Learning Campus for all ages .
Stout says this is very ambitious and it would be wise to have a pilot project. Wishart says this is a strategy document. Stout sees potential for telepresence and wants that put in there.
Campbell moves these parts of the report. George Smith says from his experience as director of Shetland College he welcomes the report. He understands the financial concerns, but says “let’s try to make this work” and we must make sure left hand isn’t taking out what the right hand is puting in.
Cleaver says the final decision rests with the council this afternoon (or this evening), but we are being asked to decided something that needs “considerable reflection and very, very clear understanding that this is not a quick fix”. Budgets can be realigned. “It’s only money!” We need systems that can resist the most dreadful future – everything is getting harder, more expensive and we are getting less money to do it.
In the way fo fixing stuff it has to stay dfixed. We can’t come back in a couple of years and say” Whoops” I am concerned we look at education and its delivery and just make it smaller to save money. What is driving what here? Are we reducing the age so we can get them to Lerwick early enough so they can get into Lerwick and Scalloway because they can’t do it any other way? If we close buildings what happens. If everything happens in lerwick, what about everywhere else (rumble).
12.47pm – Frank Robertson says realistically it will take 85m for some pupils to travel to Lerwick from the west side. He asks what is the cut off point for children to have to go to the hostel. Budge says that would have to be looked at, but currently Sandness pupils do have opportunity to stay at the hostel.
Robertson asks about 12 year olds on public service buses, and what kind of protection they will have. Budge says some primary pupils already travel on public buses and that seems to work successfully.
Now we are onto the debate.
12.44pm – Gary Robinson asks if transport figures are up to date and can children be transported within 65 minutes, at what cost? Grant says the figures are up to date.
Tom MacIntyre asks about joining up secondary and tertiary. Grant says the focus is on getting the best outcomes for young people and chief executive Mark Boden is leading the change programme. The plan is to form a single entity outwith the council.
Andrea Manson asks if Brae and AHS will be treated the same as the island schools having a different format for S1/2 education.
Ledingham says you keep S1-6 model, which is stronger educationally, but the S1/2 model suits the geography better. te key thing is we aling the quality fo delivery to make sure experience for children is aif a similar standard and transition allows for “no bumps in the road”.
Flea: would your report have been diferent after your trips around the south and west mainland. Ledingham says his recommendations to close Aith and Sandwick would stand.
Flea raises concerns in west and south about travel times. Could schoollunchtime be reduced by 15m to allow them more time? Budge says that could affect the bus timetables, and lunchtimes had already been reduced to accommodate 50m periods so they would be unlikely to look at that.
12.34pm – George Smith asks about having seven subjects for secondary kids to learn – Ledingham says it is good to be flexible and uses his example of Donald.
David Sandison asks why S2 transition could not be applied to Aith and Sandwick. They are different, Ledingham says. He says it was a financial decision, but also to allow people to access the full curriculum that will be avialbel at AHS. If it was purely left to finances, he would have closed all the schools.
Sandison can’t get away from how much things cost in Shetland. Do we have a more up to date figure on how much it costs per pupil after the savings we have already made. BUdge says we don’t have tha information as priorities have been concentrated on this report. Sandison says this depatrment has already made savings, so we should start seeing different figures shortly. Tregonning, an accountant, says every £1m saved would mean it cost £670 less per pupil.
Cleaver says he asked two days ago about where the money was spent, and there was no response. Three thousand pounds can be spent. Poof! When Scalloway closed we were told we would save £840,000, but the cost of education has gone up! Why?
Gray says we are very prudent in our estimates about how much will be saved and we closed more than £840,000. We are cnstantlyu battling every increasing costs, such as energy bills, cost of meals, and that is what makes these chalenges so difficult combined with government cuts.managing 5% inflation in costs with reducing budgets. Cleaver says a cynic would say the only thing going up is our reserve balance.
Ledingham agrees it is very difficult, you can save £2m and see no change.
12.22pm – Martin Tregonning, religious comittee member, asks if any other authorities have an S2 transition. Ledingham says they do in Orkney and the western isles. He says from speaking to youngsters and staff in Shetland, the prize of a better education and greater vocational opportunities made it worth changing.
He asks about professional training of primary and secondary teachers. Ledingham says its about maximising the skills of the staff that area already here; some staff would welcome the opportunity.
Tregonning says one option we are not going ahead with – we could maintain an S3 transition without any change in the amount we save from this exercise (£2.4m) and that would find favour with many people in the communty. Ledingham says the educational opportunity wins out on age of transition. The hub model would not provided equal opportunities.
Tregonning asks about Brae not having the opportunties of Lerwick as a high school. Ledingham says that would have to be addressed. He adds, when questioned, people want Brae to remain S1-6.
12.11pm – Robert Henderson asks if there was any consideration given to transporting from Lerwick or Brae to another school?
Was it a private school your children went to? (rumble). My boys attended local school, and I would not consider educating my children privately.
What is the pay of a secondary teacher? £48,000.
Michael Stout asks about flexibility that could be provided by telepresence to allow children to stay in their local community. Ledingham says his experience as a head teacher is to trust people to come up with alternative models, including home schooling and working with local employers, but it is better not to have a fixed policy. Rather than develop a formal system it’s about head teachers and staff using their judgment to provide for best needs of individual learners. There is rarely one way to solve a problem.
Stout says in Scalloway the issues are different from remoter communities, and the concern is losing the connection. How can we provide reassurance? Ledingham says the key to this is not to give it to the experts to solve, the solution must be done in conjunction with communities. When I asked young people, some of whom had stayed in the hostel for years, had they lost thier connection with their community and I was very firmly put in my place.
12.03pm – Jonathan Wills: he asks about the cost of training primary teachers to teach S1/2. The anser is no from chair Wishart.
On two tier education would bairns get the same education in the isles as in Brae/Lerwick? Budge says that is already the case.
What happens if ducation budgets run out of control? Ledingham says 10 or 11 years a council had a £2.5 million overspend that led to dramatic changes, capital programmes were cut and accelerated formal consultation on school closure, joint head teachers and it safe to assume that they are still trying to get out of that situation. JW: “Doesn’t sound like a big deficit to us.”
Could we end up with someone coming in to close all the secondary schools expect AHS? Gray says he wouldn’y go that far, but tey can hold councils to account and make you do things you wouldn’t otherwise do.
11.58am – Billy Fox now: he talks about the comparison between the cost of education in Shetland, Orkney and the western isles. The figures in the report are in 2012, he says, and the scenario is changing as we speak. He says western isles are twice as big geographically, but the size of the school estate is comparable. Teacher/pupil ratios are comparable. On ASN, western isles have twice as much ASN kids. The western isles have more schools at less than 50% capacity, but there is not a great deal of difference. Their roads are worse and they have to deliver education bi-lingually “which must add to the cost”.
The question is what are the inheritances and policy choices that can only explain the variation in cost, as identified in Ledingham’s report. Ledingham says he was education director of two local authorities simultaneously in East and West Lothian and they had very diferent budgets, but it was very difficult to explain why and the conclusion was that we “just have to start from where we are”.
Finance director James Gray comes to the table and says it is very difficult to compare how authorities work, but he says the figures are based on figures the council puts to the Scottish government, so the figures have been indepedently verified twice, but he can’t provide a line by line explanation.
Fox asks for an explanation of the statement in the report, because it indicates that in 2007 the financial veraiation was recognised and needed to be addressed and the council has not done it.
Gray says that line was provided by the Improvement Service, but he can look into it.
11.49am – West side Frank Robertson gives credit to both education service and the parent councils, after seen consultations since 2001. He asks to nail down S2.
Ledingham admits when he came here he would have thought S3 was transition point. But having been here and seen the geography and the educational assets, his judgment is that S2 is better. Budge says she fully endorses recommendations (BIG RUMBLE!)
Campbell (ex teacher) now with questions about the relationship between secondary and tertiary. He says colleges make no charge for providing vocational training to schools – would Ledingham expect college to chage and therefore increase cost to education department. Ledingham says its about working together, and there are ways around funding, particularly if you can access external funding.
Campbell asks if he even met the principals of the NAFC or college. No he didn’t, Ledingham says.
ON upskilliing primary teachers, there is a fear this could introduce a two tier system where Lerwick and Brae would have more specialist teachers. Ledingham says it’s an interesting question/debate, but his experience is that primary staff deliver CfE in a more “in depth manner”. Primary teachers find the suggestion “very exciting” and it is something that would “evolve”. All research suggests its the quality of the teacher in front of the class that counts. We can turn it to our advantage, rather than see it as a deficit.
On travel, Ledingham says the islands are one of the most beuatiful places he has ever visited. He says it’s not ideal to have long journeys, but the prize is a high class education. He struggles to see how hey won’t be coming back in a few years time to close schools if they don’t make a decision now, due to the financial situation.
11.38am – To questions: Cleaver (first again!) welcomes this report because it brings into one document all the information. He says Scotland was cutting back its JHS service when Shetland was building it up, and asks how that was handled. Ledingham says JH schools went back to being primaries, or high schools where there were enough pupils.
Cleaver asks if he is confident interconnected and disparate situation in Shetland can be done without current system. Ledingham says it is possible if people work together, and outside Shetland professionals would “give their eye teeth” to be involved in a project like this. People outside Shetland in Scotland would be very ken to help – this is a model that others owuld be fascinmated to follow in Scotland, the UK and further afield. Translating a challenge into an exciting opportunity.
Cleaver asks how much he has spoken to NAFC and Shetland College. Not much, Ledingham admits, time did not allow, but it is very much in line with general policy.
11.30am – To the recommendations, Ledingham says that the status quo is not an option and the uncertainty is damaging. The focus on aligning seciondary and tertiary would put Shetland ahead of the rest of Scotland because of the ficus on vocational training.
He says tertiary education is going to have to save £600,000 next year, making it even harder to deliver training.
On the Shetland Learning Campus he talks about integrating education holistically across all ages and linking it with vocational training.
On rationalisation, hee says the pressure is already on schools, but there are a number of other drivers:
* the two term dash to get highers which is only now being addressed through Curriculum for Excellence (CfE)
* to dovetail vocational training acros S3 and 4 would be impossible without a transition at end of S2, even in the isles (big rumble).
Primary teachers in Shetland have said they would be “absolutely” able to teach S1 and S2, he says.
On travel, he has been taken around west and south mainland by councillors (Flea, Peter Campbell and Theo Smith). He has personal family experience of children having to travel a long way to school, and they have not lost connection with their local communities. “We have the wit to do that”
He is confident that with knowledge, passion and connection to Shetland exists. t will require partnership and why has it not been done before. The setting is different, the circumstances are diferent, but the opportunities are there.
11.15am – He reads out his five examples of children who would be educated under his “vision” for secondary education in Shetland. Nei from Aithl, the first, who wants to follow a career in marine engineering. Ledingham says when he outlined this to a real pupil at the AHS, his eyes “lit up”.
Freya. the second, from Yell who got into university to do an MA in business management after doing hospitality before switching to accountancy. He says outside Shetland they are trying to develop careers-based higher education, which is a challenge because tertiary and secondary are not aligned.
Eva from Sandwick, the fourth in the report (has he forgotten about Donald?), who was into science and was able to enjoy vocational training at the AHS who had a successful career in oil and gas. He says this vocational training would stand students in good stead to receive scholarships.
And Peter (he has forgotten Donald) from Baltasound who studied Mandarin online in his spare time at school and ended up at Oxford University. Access to universities, Ledingham says, is hgettng more competitive and exam results are not enough.
And now to Donald (big rumble from upstairs – they must be Whalsay folk!) – a poor student who didn’t enjoy academia. He got into construction through vocational training from S3 and became an apprentice, and he got his act together when he could see a way forward and stopped misbehaving. Ledingham reflects on a conversation with a student who wanted to be a joiner, and Donald’s path could be aligned with such an ambition.
Ledingham says the consultation has been “exemplary and surpasses anything I have seen anywhere else in Scotland”. He says it very hard to remain objective, and communities often see this exercises as “the thin end of the wedge”. But the focus has always been on maingaining a high level of education. People opposed closing their own school and there was no enthusiasm for telepresence (online learning/video conferencing for the rest of us).
11am – Ledingham begins talking about ensuring we maintain the high quality of education and financial stability. His vision is “practical and achievable”, it recognises current assets . He also talks about how did we get to where we are and how oil allowed Shetland to do things that couldn’t be done elsewhere, including the JHS system that went from the rest of Scotland in the ’70s. It’s about moving to a sustainable position.
He as never experienced the level of consultation taking place, which means you can lose sight of the standards of education. It is importan to move forwards – it is critical and a significant risk to maintaining those standards.
These are difficult decisions, but there is frustration that decisions have not been taken, which creates uncertainty for all.
He mentions the new AHS and predicts it will becme a transformative hub of educatin which takes things “to a new level”. It will be a tremendous asse that can be built upon.
“My role has been to elicit that exciting vision, but much of what I recommend has been drawn out from cnversations with other people and thanks people for the welcome and courtesy he has received from everyone in difficult circumstances.”
He will not talk abou his five examples, based on best practice within the profession, focussing on pupils’ experience.
10.50am – OK here we go. The Ledingham debate begins. Budge welcomes Professor Don Ledingham to the meeting who will present his report after she explains how the report was put together. They put together one report on what an ideal secondary education service would look like – which would be S1-6 at two schools in Brae and Lerwick attended by all Shetland children pn a daily basis. Unaffordable, unfortunately. She thanks the communities for their responses and cooperation – there is a rumble from the crowd watching this by videolink from upstairs. Just reminding people they are here!!!
Budge says she understands how people feel, but reminds folk that Scalloway saw pupils successfuly transfrred to Lerwick’s AHS. There is independent proof that this worked, from HMIE. They concluded a strenth was AHS provided a safe, caring environment and did extremely well at exams.
ON transport she ackmnowledges concern and says must find ways of doing it beter and giving it considerable attention. She assures there are no underestimates being made and if it goes to statutory consultation. We can be innovative about transport from the west side – express mini buses and pay p[arents to transport pupils. TRansport would be worked up in great detail.
Consequence sof not agreeing these recommendations would bring us bnack to the status quo financially and she backs Ledingham’s report and find the extra savings it will need. She is keen we maintain the momentum for the futre of “wir young folk” Rumble from upstairs!
10.40am – Now development director Neil Grant presents his department’s six month performance review, which has cut £7.5m from its budget so far, a cut of 57%!
The department is doing a lot on skills development, community development. We are extremely lucky our economy is bouyant – 1% unemployment compared to 7% nationally, but there remains a huge ned to get young people into employment.
Campbell asks when will the transport consultant’s report be available for retendering bus networks. Grant says will be at full council next week, new routes in place by August 2014. Consultants are reporting back constantly, but its commercially sensitive so will be dealt with privately at different committees.
Stout asks about staff morale again. Grant says staff are worried about their position in the future organisation, but a lot of that uncertainty is going.
Cleaver asks about tertiary education review, which is “totally pertinent” to today’s secomndary debate. Is he confident timescales on that review wil allow councillors to make some serious budgetary decisions and won’t jeopardise knots we hope to untie soon. Grant says he would be very careful on that. Cleaver says a lot of work goes on home efficiency and thriftiness, well insulated homes etc. From his experience as a school cleaner and spent an awful lot of time turning things off that had been left on. There is nothing lihe “pester power” and could schools help children put pressure on parents by seeing a good example at school. Good point, Grant says.
Budge mentions eco flags – we do take this very seriously but good point well made and we wll take it back.
10.30am – Now George Smith from Sandwick. Are children still safe despite the council cuts? Leslie thinks they can still manage the risk. Chair Vaila Wishart thanks Leslie for her report.
Now children’s services director Helen Budge presents the department’s sixth month performance review. Cleaver asks if there is any greater understanding about the issues that caused “a delay” in Skerries about the scholl closure consultation. Budge says the IT link is being regularly checked now. We are test checking IT technlogy on a weekly basis. It was a technical problem, that is hopefully resolved.
Stout emphasises what Ledingham says about the amount of work involved in the Blueprint would have “swamped” a larger authority, and commends the department for staying on top of things.
10.25am – Lerwick member Peter Campbell asks about staffing levels and creatively recruiting people. Leslie says Shetland has a good record of training local people. Do we need to increase the number of trainees? The training programme has been very successful, with two social workers trained every year, which is the capacity of such a small organisation with all the legal requirements. One trainee a year would be expensive.
Michael Stout from Bressay asks about succession planning and recruiting from the private sector, and the work/life balance. He seeks reassurance about staff morale – what impact is all that we are going through at the moment having on front line folk. Leslie: often in children’s workers are extra committed and go the extra mile; across social work always trying to improve management to keep staff morale up. “But certainly over the past couple of years its been tough and morale has not been as good as it has always been.”
10.18am – Staffing levels continue to be a challenge, especially on the front line. Often one section of the department “steals” staff from another. The main challenge is “risk” caused by budget cuts, which they ar doing their best to address.
Questions start. Unst member Gary Cleaver asks about the delay in dealing with complaints, asking if it put children or council in danger. “It’s never good to have late esponses”, she says, but some were very complex. No complaint left any child at risk.
Cleaver asks if Scotland will follow England’s example of placing a legal duty of care on councils regarding child abuse. Leslie says Scotland usually takes time to follow England’s example, but everybody that works with children in Shetland knows their responsibility and is quite willing to pass on information.
10.10am – This meeting is going to take some time to get going. It is the education and families committee, so we start with the annual report from the chief social worker, Hughina Leslie. She emphasises the value of collaborative working. The number of complaints is down, but the number of staff to deal with them has significantly decreased due to council cuts, but this has been dealt with and now two complaints dealt with on time and the other two still being dealt with within the time frame.
10am – Estimates about the number of protesters outside the buulding range from 160 to 300. A more accurate figure will no doubt come later.