SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott has criticised the Scottish Government for “unfairly” excluding the isles from a new £11.5 million fund for the country’s secondary schools.
His concern was echoed by the chairwoman of Shetland Islands Council’s education and families committee, Vaila Wishart, who said the funding situation for island education was “worrying”.
A total of 12 local authorities in Scotland missed out on the funding, which aims to close the educational attainment gap by promoting “literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing” in areas of deprivation.
Scott and his Orkney colleague Liam McArthur have written to Scottish education secretary John Swinney questioning why the Northern Isles have been excluded.
Up to 133 secondary schools in Scotland will benefit from the funding, which has been assigned on a regional basis.
“The Scottish Government has chosen to allocate funding to over 100 secondary schools, but not one school in Shetland or Orkney made the list,” Scott said.
“The Scottish Government has made a misguided decision in choosing to prioritise some students over others. Children in the Northern Isles living in poverty are being unfairly passed over for this vital government funding.”
McArthur called the £11.5 million funding a “patchwork” effort resulting from a “refusal to adopt a individual-based approach” to closing the attainment gap.
The Scottish Government responded by defending its record of supporting Shetland’s schools in the last two years.
It added that some isles children could enjoy free school meals from 2017 onwards through money raised by tax reforms.
“Delivering equity and excellence across Scotland’s education system is the Scottish Government’s defining mission and in the two years up to 2016/17, Shetland have been allocated £56,680 through the attainment challenge innovation fund,” a spokesman said.
“Scottish attainment challenge has been targeted on those authorities and schools with the highest concentrations of children and young people living in areas of multiple deprivation.
“However, from next year, the £100 million that will be raised as a result of local tax reforms will be issued directly to schools, based on eligibility for free school meals in primary and S1-3, which will benefit schools in the area.”
But councillor Wishart responded by saying that it was high time to introduce the principle of ‘island proofing’ now.
“Shetland Islands Council has long been concerned about the funding for education. This is another example of how the funding does not meet necessarily meet the needs of islands,” she said.
“The importance of island proofing just can’t be underestimated.
“Teachers having to make individual bids for special projects is not the way ahead, I think they have already enough on their plate without having to fill in application forms.”
While Shetland is often regarded as an affluent area, the isles’ recent commission on tackling inequalities revealed the extent to which some local residents are struggling.
One in five isles households has an income of £13,564 or less, but the median household income is £28,068.
An estimated 43 per cent of households in Shetland are in fuel poverty, with over half cutting spending on essentials like food and children’s clothes to pay bills.
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