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Overhaul for secondary bairns’ school week

A new structure for the school week is already in operation for secondary pupils at Symbister in Whalsay.

DISCUSSIONS are underway between Shetland’s secondary schools and parent councils as preparations continue for a new isles-wide timetable which will see pupils work less on Fridays.

From May 2018, children will attend school between Monday and Thursday for slightly longer than present before going home earlier on Friday afternoon.

The new timetable structure, which was approved by Shetland Learning Partnership last year, will affect all secondary schools in the isles.

It will see pupils have periods of 50 minutes, with 33 periods spread throughout the week. The amount of time children will spend in school will be the same.

The system is already in place at Aith Junior High School and Whalsay School, while it is also in effect in some other local authorities across Scotland.

It is hoped that the “asymmetrical” timetable will allow children staying at the new Anderson High School halls of residence to go home at the weekend on Friday afternoon instead of the evening.

With all of Shetland’s secondary schools sharing the same timetable structure, staff working in more than one school should also be able to plan better.

Opposition to cutting number of national qualifications

National Parent Forum of Scotland chairwoman and Shetland representative Fiona Nicholson said she is encouraged by the benefits which may come from a common timetable structure.

“I support any moves which would open access to the young people and allow better use of staff and resources to provide a full and rounded education and it is thought that a whole authority approach to timetable is conducive to this,” she said.

Nicholson, however, reiterated that opposition has been levelled in Shetland to the proposed number of national qualifications pupils will be able to sit in fourth year from 2017/18 onwards.

SIC quality improvement officer Robin Calder.

Under the new proposals youths will only be able to study six subjects, whereas they were previously allowed to do seven.

“Part of the discussions linked to the asymmetric week are around the number of subject choices offered to senior phase pupils and at what stage these are selected,” she said.

“This has come across opposition from parents and unions and is now being further examined.”

Under the new system, teachers would have 27 timetabled periods and six periods which would be deemed non-contract.

The SIC’s youth services staff are looking into whether activities can be held on Friday afternoons to replace the lost school time, while officials are also exploring whether any transport implications may arise as a result of the changed timetable.

Head teachers of the Anderson and Brae high schools, and the junior highs in Baltasound, Mid Yell and Sandwick, hope to have the timings of the school day set in stone by April.

SIC quality improvement officer Robin Calder said the move to the new timetable structure will be as “smooth as possible”.

“An enormous amount of work is going into making sure the new structure meets the needs of everyone – from pupils, teachers and parents to employers and unions,” he said.

Whalsay parent council chairwoman Ann-Marie Anderson.

“That will continue for the next 18 months, and we’ll make sure we’re talking to everyone concerned to make the transition as smooth as possible. In the meantime, if any parent needs to talk through the changes at this stage, we’d ask them to contact their head teacher.”

Two parent councils see benefits in reducing Friday hours

Aith Junior High School parent council chairwoman Jacqueline Johnson said reducing hours on Fridays benefited both children and parents.

“I think the best thing about it is that especially at this time of the year, the bairns are coming home one day in daylight. It’s also quite good if you’re planning weekend activities, or if you’re going away on the boat or the plane,” she said.

“I think it will be good for after school activities, if there were more schools doing the same thing.”

Whalsay’s parent council chairwoman Ann-Marie Anderson said the asymmetrical timetable structure has worked well in the island.

“The general feeling in Whalsay is that it has been successful. Finishing earlier on the Friday at 2pm means that parents can spend more time with their bairns at the weekend,” she told BBC Radio Shetland.

“Especially in the winter time, it’s just more practical for getting the bairns home earlier.”

The SIC’s children’s services team will now discuss the changes a host of groups including employers, the college sector, the Shetland Recreational Trust, Shetland Arts, the voluntary sector, unions and child-care providers.

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