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News / Campaigners plan march to save schools

One of many signs that have sprung up across the isles in protest at the council's school closure plans.

FOLK living in rural Shetland are being asked to join a show of strength in support of their local schools in the biggest protest yet against  the council’s closure programme.

The campaign group Communities United for Rural Education (CURE) are planning a march through central Lerwick at 11am on Saturday 7 June starting and ending at the Market Cross.

Organisers are keen to stress the occasion will be an opportunity to celebrate the success of rural schools and are asking people to turn up in “community dress”, whether that be an Up Helly Aa suit or a sports kit.

However the march has been deliberately scheduled to influence Shetland Islands Council’s decision on the fate of Sandwick junior high school two days later on Monday 9 June.

CURE argue Shetland’s rural schools have been built up over many years with excellent teaching facilities for nursery, primary and secondary pupils, with well-equipped leisure facilities nearby.

They say that this has attracted families to move to rural Shetland and closing schools will reverse this trend, promoting a drift to Lerwick and Brae where housing is already in short supply and house prices are rising.

CURE wants rural education to continue until the age of 16 with the option for pupils to move on to high school, college, apprenticeships or the workplace.

“This is a model which has worked well in the past and, given the uncertainty over a date for the new Anderson high school, the future shape of Curriuculum for Excellence and the details of the new Shetland Learning Partnership, this is not the time to be dismantling a successful system,” they say.

CURE secretary Gordon Thomson said there is great concern throughout Shetland that if the council votes to turn Sandwick into an S1-2 school it will have a “domino effect”.

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The SIC is recommending that S3 and 4 pupils at Sandwick move to Lerwick’s Anderson high school.

They are also consulting on doing the same thing in Aith, Whalsay, Yell and Unst, as well as closing primary schools in Sandness, Urafirth, North Roe and Burravoe.

The Sandwick consultation report published this week showed huge opposition to the proposal, which the council says would save £223,530.

The council is currently trying to cut £3 million from its annual education budget as part of the strategy to balance its books by the end of the next financial year.

A motion signed by 11 councillors to postpone the council’s plans for secondary education, which was withdrawn from a council meeting last week, may be presented at the SIC’s education and families committee meeting on 9 June.

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