Letters / Junior high schools – “a good investment”

Ahead of Saturday’s education march and Monday’s council meetings to debate the future of Sandwick junior high school, Communities United for Rural Education (CURE) secretary Gordon Thomson spells out the group’s position on S1-4 schools and how they see the Curriculum for Excellence being delivered.


CURE would argue that Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is deliverable in rural S1-S4 schools.

Pupils will consolidate their courses in S3, with a view to choosing 6 or 7 subjects to study in S4. After that they will go to their nearest high school for S5-S6, or go to a local college, take up an apprenticeship or go into the workplace, where they will continue to receive training in many cases.

Because of the geography of Shetland and Orkney, the islands have several S1-S4 schools.

These are unusual elsewhere in Scotland because it is possible to travel to a nearby S1-S6 secondary by daily commute, the model preferred by HMI/Education Scotland.


Even the western isles have established an S1-S6 system for some time now, with four S1-S6 schools and one remaining S1-S2 school.

In Orkney there are three S1-4 junior highs (Westray, Stronsay and Sanday) and in Shetland there are five (Aith, Sandwick, Unst, Whalsay and Yell).

There is no doubt that junior highs are expensive in terms of pupil/teacher ratio, but we would argue that this is a good investment in rural communities and is preferable to having a large number of under 16 pupils facing a long travelling day or staying in a hostel and requiring supervision there.


There are a few pupils who opt to leave junior highs before S4 but this is usually due to family circumstances e.g. parents working near a high school.

CURE secretary Gordon Thomson (left) in Edinburgh with education secretary Michael Russell and Shetland MSP Tavish Scott in March.

If parents and pupils were so worried about the lack of opportunity in junior highs, they would be making lots of placing requests to their local high school. According to the staff handbooks in Orkney and in Shetland, this is not the case. Parents and pupils are happy with this system.

With the advent of CfE and Educational Pathways, pupils in Shetland junior highs have been able for a few years now to attend Shetland College or the NAFC Marine Centre on a day release basis every fortnight (Unst pupils do not do this due to distance but can access SQA Approved Construction classes provided in the school). They are also able to take on work experience with local firms.

CURE feel that parents and pupils are happy with this system; if they were not, they would be putting in placing requests.

We feel that with the very good work done by pastoral care staff in schools and colleges on transition (and enhanced transition in some cases for pupils with ASN, who can have more visits to their new school through S4, before they depart from their junior high) that S4 pupils can easily continue their S5-S6 courses or college courses after leaving their local school.

It seems a natural point of departure to us.

Mike Mackenzie MSP has responded to SIC leader Gary Robinson’s letter regarding school closures – see here.

Saturday’s march starts at Lerwick’s Market Cross at 11am.

Gordon Thomson