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Letters / Trained to question

Vaila Wishart, Chair of the SIC education committee wrote a Shetland Times “Sounding Off” piece on 6 June 2014, in which she outlined the SIC’s case for closing or reducing Shetland’s existing junior high schools.

She stated “…there are five junior high schools for fewer than 350 pupils, which is the main reason that the cost per secondary pupil is just under £14,000, more than double the national average.”

Since then the parent councils have undertaken their own study of the SIC’s figures and published their response (“Opinion: deeply worrying”, SN 14/7/14).

In it the parents make the extraordinary claim, that the council’s stated cost per pupil for Shetland takes no account of savings already made and that, had they done so, Shetland’s cost per pupil would not be “nearly £14,000 per pupil” but in fact, would be just over £10,000 per pupil while potential for further efficiency savings has also been identified.

The significance of this is that if the parents’ claim is true, then Shetland’s current cost per pupil is clearly comparable to the £9500 per pupil for both the Western Isles and Orkney i.e. the SIC’s financial objective has, effectively, already been achieved.

Interestingly, one week on from the publication of the parents’ response, no-one from the SIC – no Vaila Wishart, no Jonathan Wills and no Helen Budge – has disputed the parents’ version of the figures.

This is deeply disquieting, it suggests the parents have uncovered a devastating flaw in the SIC’s closure arguments. If the parents are right, not only must the school closure be halted immediately, a full, open investigation must be carried out, preferably, under the auspices of Audit Scotland, as to how such an egregious blunder could have been made and used by senior SIC councillors and officials.

Wishart and Wills are journalists, trained to question, yet they have supported this closure programme, unquestioningly, to the hilt.

The true set of cost figures must be established to avoid further damage to the SIC’s reputation so I ask Vaila Wishart, education committee chair, to clarify whether there is anything in her aforementioned “Sounding Off” piece that she would like to revise or withdraw, in light of the parent councils’ challenge on the validity of her figures and how does she propose the SIC should proceed from here?

If not, what does she say in response to the authors of the article in question?

John Tulloch
Lyndon, Arrochar

 

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