News / Russell backs CURE campaign

Education secretary holds the St Kilda boat presented by CURE secretary Gordon Thomson (left) with Shetland MSP Tavish Scott. Photo CURE

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to keep four years of secondary education in Shetland’s junior high schools took their campaign to the Scottish Parliament on Thursday.

Members of Communities United for Rural Education (CURE) met up with Edinburgh university students to present a model of a St Kilda boat to Scottish education secretary Michael Russell and Shetland MSP Tavish Scott.

The boat was called Da Slockit Licht after the famous Tom Anderson tune mourning the depopulation of Eshaness last century.

CURE secretary Gordon Thomson explained the boat was symbolic of the fears today’s rural communities have that folk will leave if the secondary schools change.

“We’d like to think of rural communities as places that can stay alive and not gradually dwindle and flicker out,” he told the BBC.

Russell appeared to take on board the group’s concerns, saying that pupil numbers were “almost immaterial” if the education was good.


“Schools tend to close themselves when you get down to a very small number and parents say we want our children to move elsewhere,” he said.

“But there are some physical circumstances in which rural schools are the only provision in that area that is effective, all the other services may have gone.

“Having a school there keeps that community together.”

Thomson warned Shetland could set a precedent for the rest of rural Scotland if it goes ahead with plans to centralise education in Lerwick and Brae.

“We want our children to be educated in their own communities rather than have their education hindered by extensive commute times in all weathers as well as isles children having no choice other than living away from home, in a central hostel.”

The group says Shetland Islands Council has spent well over £450,000 on its Blueprint for Education to close schools to save around £3 million.

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It says the junior high schools built 40 years ago have ensured the islands’ rural populations have thrived.

They say high school parent councils have presented proposals which have saved the council £1.4 million.

“Despite well-reasoned and articulate opposition from parent councils, community councils, communities, teachers and pupils the SIC is set to vote on proposals to divert money from education into transporting teachers and pupils around the isles in a dizzying dance citing the educational benefit of more Duke of Edinburgh awards and two year highers.“

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