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SIC needs to get new school timetable message across

Whalsay (pictured) and Aith schools already enjoy an early finish on Friday afternoons.

SHETLAND Islands Council has work to do to ensure pupils and parents are fully aware of changes to the school day that will result from the adoption of a common timetable for all secondary departments, councillors have been told.

Members of the policy and resources committee heard on Monday that some schools have had “much more in-depth conversations” than others so far.

Slightly longer school days from Monday to Thursday are to be introduced for every secondary from the end of May, with an earlier finish on Friday afternoons, which the council says will enable it to make more efficient use of teachers’ time.

The model is already in place in Aith and Whalsay secondaries, with the remainder of Shetland’s secondaries to follow suit from 29 May.

Children’s services director Helen Budge told councillors that a leaflet would be issued to parents, while the schools team will also have a stall at parents’ evenings in the weeks ahead.

“We’re trying to reach all parents coming into that meetings as well,” she said. “in one school, particularly, communication hasn’t been as in-depth as we would expect.

“By the end of the month [we aim to] ensure that every parent is fully aware [of the changes], as well as what’s the implications for the Friday afternoon.”

She was speaking after North Mainland councillor Alastair Cooper questioned “to what extent the schools have actually discussed it with all parents and made them aware of it – there’s a lot of folk claiming ignorance of this thing”.

His fellow ward member Emma MacDonald was also troubled by the transport costs, which are estimated at £139,000 a year but “may cost more, may cost less – and I’m concerned that we don’t have the actual figures, and they could become a lot more than what’s in the report”.

Budge acknowledged that teaching unions have taken issue with a move they view as taking “teachers out of the classroom in order to pay for transport costs” and last week described as “bad for education in Shetland”.

Unions have stressed they are not opposed to the broader principle of moving to a 33-period week, but at a time when resources are stretched they object to reducing staffing levels by the equivalent of 1.78 full-time teachers.

Budge said it was something the SIC would be looking at “even if here was no cost for transport – we’d still want to make a more efficient use of teaching staff as well as making sure we have a common curriculum across all our schools”.

She gave an assurance that teaching unions’ concerns will be “taken on board, answered and looked to”.

Education and families committee chairman George Smith said he had “deep reservations” about the Scottish Government’s wider direction of travel on education.

But “whatever direction they move in, this will help them in the sense of being able to have in place some kind of standardised common timetable, equitable levels of staffing etc.”, he said, adding it also “demonstrates the folly” of moving towards providing funding directly to head teachers and losing the accountability of an overarching local authority.

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021