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Parents fear views are “falling on deaf ears”

PARENTS in Shetland’s north isles came out in force this week to argue against council plans to remove fourth year education from their junior high schools.

A second council proposal to simply close the junior high schools in Yell and Whalsay appears to have lost ground altogether.

But after two well attended meetings on the two islands, parents said they still felt the council was not listening to their views.

More than 200 people turned up to condemn the council’s proposals in Whalsay on Tuesday night, with the same number attending in Mid Yell on Thursday.

Education officials argued that regardless of Shetland Islands Council’s commitment to save £3 million from its schools budget, a “conversation” was needed about secondary education in the isles.

Council leaders insist that the new Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is best delivered in one secondary school from S1 to S6.

However accepting Shetland’s geography, they believe next best option is splitting education after S3 when pupils should leave the islands and head for Lerwick or Brae to complete their schooling.

This option, they say, would allow the maximum benefit of the new Shetland Learning Partnership with the islands’ colleges to let youngsters start training in vocational skills such as care and engineering.

Parents at the two meetings unanimously opposed the idea, reminding officials and councillors that the SIC itself had rejected the S1-3 model just last year.

They also pointed out that exam results under the new CfE regime were already proving better in the two islands – both of which attained 100 per cent pass rates this summer – than in Lerwick’s Anderson High School.

Parents are convinced the proposals are being driven by the council’s need to save money, rather than educational benefit as they claim.

Mid Yell parent council chairman John Irvine said: “This does not feel like a consultation to a lot of folk. We don’t feel like we are being listened to.

“All they want to do is close schools and save money, but this is a process we have to go through.”

Whalsay parent council chairwoman Kari Hamilton echoed: “Folk feel that their concerns are falling on deaf ears. They keep saying they are taking our opinions on board, but they have done nothing so far to show us they are doing that.

“They say they listened and that’s why they did away with the S1-3 proposal and suggested S1-2, so why are we back at S1-3?”

Baltasound parent council chairwoman Catriona Waddngton, who attended the Yell meeting, said the consultations were a “waste of time”, simply presenting proposals that parents disagreed with.

She added the council had lost credibility over the way it had dropped the S1-3 proposal as “a disaster”, and reintroduced it as “a saviour”.

Instead she called for the council to take “a less confrontational approach” in shaping the education budget and how the money was spent.

Children’s services director Helen Budge insisted the council was listening to parents, saying they had built into the new proposals some of the points made in previous consultations.

These included taking into account pupils who did not feel they could cope with staying in a hostel in Lerwick during S4, and waiving hostel fees for children who wanted to attend Anderson High School at an earlier age.

“While folk might think that we are not fully listening to them, there are things that we have heard from different consultations that we have built into this proposal to demonstrate we are hearing what they are saying.

“But whether we had to find financial savings or not, we would still have to have this conversation about how we are going to deliver the senior phase of education in Shetland.”

Education and families committee chairwoman Vaila Wishart attended both meetings and said: “I am not surprised by the views that were expressed, but at the same time there are changes to the way education is being delivered throughout the country and we have to take that into account.”

Meanwhile council leader Gary Robinson acknowledged that it would be “almost impossible” to close the junior high schools on the isles, but reiterated that secondary education in Shetland costs far more than in Orkney or the Western Isles.