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Summit to call for fairer education funding

Cabinet secretary for education Angela Constance - Photo: Scottish Government

THE FUTURE of education across the Scottish islands is being discussed at a summit chaired by education secretary Angela Constance in Kirkwall today (Wednesday).

Council leaders from Shetland, Orkney and the western isles are disgruntled after it emerged that a £100 million attainment fund, announced by the Scottish government in July, will primarily be used to help schools in central belt and urban areas.

Shetland Islands Council leader Gary Robinson said island authorities were each spending around £10 million more on education than what they were receiving in funding from the government, and the new attainment fund was adding further unfairness to an already difficult situation.

The summit is part of the ongoing Our Islands Our Future initiative, which has seen the island authorities come together to press the UK and Scottish governments for more devolved powers.

There are commitments from both government to ‘island proof” any future legislation, and Wednesday’s summit is seen as another opportunity to make the islands’ case.

Robinson said: “All island authorities are keen to maintain the high level of attainment.

“However, we believe that there is a level of underfunding. With further cuts to our grants in future years it will be extremely difficult to maintain the level of education that we have.

“We are concerned that the attainment fund is mainly dispersed to central belt and urban authorities, and we are actually losing out. We need to get across to the cabinet secretary the unfairness of the current situation.”

His concerns were echoed by local MSP Tavish Scott, who added that many local people were as income deprived as those in Glasgow and Dundee, and pupils in Shetland should therefore have the same access to additional government support.

“An attainment fund that helps expand early years education would be good for all areas of Scotland and that includes Shetland.

“So why is the SNP government choosing to ignore half of the country? Raising attainment standards is a target for every teacher and every school. Any new money would be very helpful.

“It is disappointing that the government do not recognise that need in Shetland as much as Glasgow,” he said.

Speaking ahead of the summit, Constance said: “This government is committed to supporting and empowering island communities and this summit offers a valuable opportunity to discuss important issues associated with education in the islands.‬‬

“Regardless of geography, we must do all we can to achieve the government’s two overarching education priorities of raising standards everywhere, for every pupil, and raising standards quickly in areas where improvement is most needed.‪‬

The education secretary will be in Shetland on Thursday when she will lay the foundation stone at the new Anderson High School.