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LIVE: Future of Sandwick junior high

Education and families committee chairwoman Vaila Wishart's motion won unanimous support on Monday morning.

MONDAY sees the future of Sandwick Junior High School come under scrutiny first at a meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s education and families committee this morning, then at a session of the Full Council in the afternoon.

It follows a big turnout for a march through Lerwick on Saturday morning in protest at plans to cut the size of schools in outlying districts. More than 600 people turned up in a show of strength organised by Communities United for Rural Education (CURE), representing all areas where schools are under threat.

Sandwick is one of five secondary schools where the local authority is looking at removing third and fourth year, but Education Scotland’s input – it is not convinced by plans to switch to S1-S2 – has plunged those plans into uncertainty.

KEY POINTS:

  • Education and families committee unanimously backs chairwoman Vaila Wishart’s motion to commission a new report with a view to consulting on either changing Aith, Baltasound, Sandwick, Whalsay and Yell to S1-S3 schools or shutting them.
  • Children’s services director Helen Budge has been tasked with preparing the report, including a revised timetable, before the summer recess in July.
  • Education Scotland was not convinced by the merits of the S1-S2 model, while it also felt the status quo of S1-S4 junior highs was unviable given the way Curriculum for Excellence has divided secondary education into two three-year phases.
  • This morning’s committee decision still was ratified, without opposition, by the Full Council on Monday afternoon.

14.35: Convener Malcolm Bell asks if anyone is proposing an amendment – there are no takers, so it’s now down to Budge and her staff to compile yet another report which will go to the education and families committee on Tuesday 1 July, followed by the Full Council on Wednesday 2 July.

14.34: North Mainland member Alastair Cooper has no problem with the motion, but is “concerned at the pressure we’re putting staff under” with only weeks until the summer recess.

Vaila Wishart says members are aware of that issue, but a lot of the work has already been done and she has been assured by Budge that it is manageable.

14.32: Frank Robertson says it is clear that the Scottish Government believes the end of S3 is the right time for pupils to choose their educational path. He strongly approves of the motion’s stipulation that no move will happen until the new AHS is completed and open.

14.29: Vaila Wishart says the post-consultation report on Sandwick was thoroughly researched. But Education Scotland had made clear that it felt neither S1-S2 nor S1-S4 were satisfactory.

She asks the Full Council to back the same motion which was unanimously passed this morning (see 10.34 entry). Seconded by Gary Cleaver.

14.26: Recently appointed deputy leader Billy Fox and North Isles member Gary Cleaver are offered an assurance that the 1 July report will delve into the reasons for the discrepnacy in SIC school maintenance costs compared to the Western Isles.

14.21: Lerwick North member Allan Wishart wants to know if the July report will set out costings for the different options. Budge says there would be financial information on both S1-S3 model and potential closures.

14.17: Henderson asks if the new approach will affect an earlier decision to shut Skerries’ secondary department. Budge says the closure was approved by the council, not called in by Scottish ministers and the plan remains for it to shut this summer.

14.16: Robert Henderson wants to know the cost of primary and secondary education in Shetland. Budge: the latest figures show cost per primary pupil in 2012/13 was £8,527, and the cost per seconary pupil in the same year was £13,657. Orkney and the Western Isles are roughly just under £10,000 per pupil in secondary; in primary it is closer – Shetland is higher than Orkney but about the same as the Western Isles.

14.12: Lerwick South member Jonathan Wills says he is “very glad to see” the outcome of this morning’s meeting. If the SIC continues to spend money on secondary education in Sandwick, what impact will it have on budgets for primary and secondary schools in the north isles, he asks?

Budge says there’s a need to find £800,000 this year, £700,000 next and £1.7 million the year after to meet the required cuts. In the next two years there may have to be a “reconsideration” of the savings to be found. 

Wills: it would have “some budgetary effect in the long term” on other Shetland schools? Budge: “Yes, that is possible.”

14.10: Budge reasserts that, because of the educational issues it throws up, she is “reluctantly” recommending the S1-S2 model.

14.02: The afternoon sitting of the Full Council has commenced and Helen Budge is once more outlining the findings of the consultation on whether to end S3 and S4 education at Sandwick.


10.47: Wishart’s motion is carried unanimously. The committee now goes into private for some other business. The Full Council will gather at 2pm to decide whether to ratify the committee’s decision to consult on the options of S1-S3 and outright closure.

10.44: Shetland Central councillor Davie Sandison says it is unfortunate that S1-S3 was rejected “principally because of the opposition to closure” and the advice of a consultant – “nonetheless we are getting clarity”. There remains uncertainty over whether this will lead to achieving a strategy that’s in line with the council’s medium term financial plan.

10.40: Tregonning “fully endorses” Wishart’s motion. However he disagrees – it was obvious prior to the “refresh” of the blueprint for education that curriculum for excellence was leaning towards S1-S3 and S4-S6 as two distinct things. “It really shouldn’t come as a surpirse to us that that’s what Education Scotland was saying,” he says. “I do think, to be honest, that we got it wrong [in consulting on S1-S2].”

10.39: North Isles councillor Gary Cleaver says officials carried out the exercise “in good faith” but circumstances have changed, and this is the right way forward. 

10.37: South Mainland member Billy Fox adds his support, but cautions that there remains a concern about the disparity in pupil costs between Shetland and the Western Ises.

10.36: Councillor Peter Campbell is “absolutely delighted we’re moving in this direction”. George Smith is also “delighted” to back Wishart’s motion, and says he is pleased Education Scotland has come out and said what it has. It is clear the community, and the teaching community, have roundly rejected the S1-S2 option.

Protesters marched through Lerwick on Saturday to protest against planned education cuts.

Communities have also rejected the idea of closing their secondary department – referring to hundreds who marched in support of rural education on Saturday. Smith says there is a need to look closely at how an S1-S3 model might work – examining whether junior highs can be resourced to deliver the first phase of secondary education effectively.

10.34: Committee chairwoman Vaila Wishart has had numerous arguments with people, mainly teachers, about the S1-S2 option and “I don’t think I have won” many of those arguments.

The consultation report is very thorough and of a high standard, but “the arguments for S1-S2 just don’t stack up in my view” and she is not going to move the recommendations in the report.

Instead she puts forward the following motion: “The Director of Children’s Services be asked to reconsider the way ahead within the Strategy for Education in Shetland and come forward with a proposal for consultation on Secondary 1 to Secondary 3 or closure for each of the Junior High Schools: Sandwick, Aith, Mid Yell, Baltasound and Whalsay, and to bring back a report to the Committee and Council before the recess which includes a revised timetable.”

10.29: Lerwick councillor Michael Stout – as things stand, if we go ahead and do what the report recommends, it is unlikely to be successful? Budge: Education Scotland’s input is “significant” – it is “with reluctance” that I am recommending S1-S2 instead of S1-S4. Stout: not necessarily a bad thing to be in the position of responding to what has emerged from the consultation.

10.23: Andrea Manson: if we decide S1-S3 is the best option, are we going to have to go through consultation again? “Yes,” comes the reply from Budge.

10.20: The vision of curriculum for excellence assumes pupils spending all six years in one school. She recognises for geographical reasons there will have to be a transition point. As pupils come through S2 and S3 there is a progression where they will “narrow their choices” gradually – at the end of S3 they will decide on which areas they are particularly interested in.

10.17: One of the committee’s religious representatives, Martin Tregonning wants to know if – given neither an S1-S2 or S1-S4 model appears suitable – the council has been consulting on the wrong options. Budge says ending secondary education at Sandwick after S3 would be a more natural fit with the new curriculum.

10.15: Budge is talking about plans to work with Shetland College on the possiblity of running HNC courses for students in the “senior phase” from S4-S6. 

10.12: In response to a question from councillor Davie Sandison, Budge says Education Scotland has made very clear that the secondary setup does not fit with the principles of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence. “We have got to listen to what they are saying,” she says.

Children's services director Helen Budge.
10.09: The current secondary setup is “no longer fit for purpose”, Budge says. While she believes an S1-S6 model is preferable, the nature of Shetland’s geography means a transition will in some cases be inevitable. She is recommending the S1-S2 model to avoid a transition at the end of S4 in the middle of the “senior phase” of education.

10.06: Budge draws members’ attention to two particular views from Education Scotland – the council has “not set out a convincing case” that discontinuing S3 and S4 is the most viable option. But it has made a clear case that the current S1-S4 setup at Sandwick is neither viable nor in the best interests of children and young people.

10.05: Of the consultation responses some 247 (78 per cent) disagreed with the proposal, while only 5 (1.5 per cent) agreed. Various issues were cited including travel distance, quality of education, transition issues, financial considerations and the impact on the local community.

10.02: Children’s services director Helen Budge is presenting the proposal to transfer S3 and S4 pupils from Sandwick to the Anderson High School once the new building at lower Staney Hill is completed, the proposed date being July 2016.

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