SCOTTISH education secretary Angela Constance has defended the government’s levels of funding for education during a brief visit to Shetland on Thursday.
In a short ceremony at Clickimin, the MSP for the Almond Valley unveiled the foundation stone for the new £56 million Anderson High School.
Following Wednesday’s islands education summit in Kirkwall, the cabinet secretary also praised the islands’ local authorities for their determination to work together.
The cabinet secretary said she was delighted to be in Lerwick as part of “this exciting milestone for the new Anderson High School”.
“Given its remote location, this project is one of the most significant to be built under our Schools for the Future programme and I’m pleased the Scottish government could contribute more than £36 million towards the cost,” she said.
The foundation stone will eventually become part of a ‘memory cairn’, to be made up of rocks gathered by pupils and schools from all around Shetland.
Work at the Lower Staney Hill site is now well under way with heavy machinery preparing the ground before building work can commence.
Main contractor Morrisons Construction said they had currently 30 workers on site.
While in Shetland, Constance also spoke about Wednesday’s islands education summit and responded to concern about education funding.
She said the Scottish government wanted to hear about the challenges of providing education in island communities, and added that she was committed to continue the dialogue, which was now under way.
“I think there is always more the Scottish government can do to learn and listen about both the opportunities and challenges of delivering education in island communities.
“It is important to stress the summit in Kirkwall on Wednesday is the start of a process; and there is a real commitment from all three islands and the Scottish government to continue this work and important dialogue because, undoubtedly, there are significant and unique challenges for island communities,” she said.
“But I also see immense opportunities and the potential to lead the way across Scotland.”
Shetland Islands Council’s families and education chairwoman Vaila Wishart was equally enthusiastic about Wednesday’s summit.
“It is the very beginning of what I think is quite an important process, because we never shared notes before and got together in that way,” she said.
“The government want the facts and figures. We can all say we don’t get enough money but we need the facts to back that up, and that is hopefully where we are heading.”
Responding to concerns raised by council leaders that there was a significant mismatch between the cost of education and the resources island communities receive, the cabinet secretary said the government had protected the funding for local government despite tough financial challenges.
“The notion that local authorities are spending more on education than we give them is quite a false one, because we at the request of our partners in local government, now have enabled them the flexibility to spend their resources on the priorities for their communities,” Constance said.
However, she acknowledged that providing education in a dispersed island community was more expensive than in an urban setting.
“In terms of finances, the Scottish government is contributing over £30 million towards the Anderson High School project, and that is a significant investment in terms of providing a modern and fit for purpose and inspiring learning environment.”
With regards to the £100 million attainment fund, which helps 300 schools in 21 local authorities in Scotland’s most deprived areas, the cabinet secretary said there were other routes for schools in Shetland to access additional Scottish government funds.
“There are things like the Access to Education Fund, which any school anywhere in Scotland can apply for, and that is quite often a fund that can be used for equipment, out of school experiences and other opportunities that assist young people with their attainment, and there are also attainment advisors,” she said.