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Council / A juggernaut or a tanker? Councillors discuss improvements at Sandwick JHS in preparation of inspectors’ visit next year

COUNCIL officials have expressed their confidence that they are on the right track with improvements at Sandwick Junior High School despite one councillor suggesting that “difficult and deep-seated issues” might be hard to overcome.

On Tuesday, the SIC’s education and families committee was presented with a long and complex report on the school’s progress, partly to bring newly elected councillors up to speed on the work that has been done in response to an Education Scotland report from 2019.

At the time inspectors highlighted weakness in strategic leadership, the curriculum, learning, teaching and assessment, as well as approaches to checking the progress of children.

An improvement and action plan has been put in place after three of four key areas were deemed as weak.

Since then progress has been made but in September Education Scotland announced in a letter to parents and carers that they would visit the school again for a follow up inspection before the end of the academic year.

lerwick councillor Neil Pearson

Asked by councillor Neil Pearson how confident officials were that a return visit by inspectors in 2023 would result in good, very good or even excellent results in all four areas identified in the action plan, quality improvement manager Robin Calder said he was “very confident”.

“We are very confident that we have a clear improvement plan, that chimes completely with the recommendations from 2019 and then examined again in 2022. We are confident that all that can be done is being done,” he said.

“We are constantly reflecting and evaluation the work that is going on at Sandwick Junior High School, and our role supporting the school.”

Head of children services Helen Budge added: ”From our point of view, we are definitely seeing an improvement, we have staff that are really committed to making a difference to the young folk  (…) and that is what we want to see continuing.

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“We will continue to support the school in every way we can, and we look forward to Education Scotland coming back (…); they will definitely see improvements from what they saw when they came last time.”

John Fraser. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

But referring to the length of time the difficulties at the school have been going on and the constant loss of pupils to the Anderson High School in Lerwick, Shetland Central councillor Moraig Lyall suggested that the job of teaching at the school was becoming increasingly unattractive and thus further adding to the problems there.

“Whilst I am happy to hear you are saying that there is confidence in the plans that who have put in place, is there not, fundamentally, a problem that is almost unresolvable?” she asked.

“Because people who choose now to place their children in the Anderson High; that is a problem that then roll on for many years because once there they will stay there for the six years of their education, and almost certainly siblings within the same family will follow; so this is a juggernaut that will take a long time to turn around.”

Councillor John Fraser however took issue with the ‘juggernaut’ analogy and suggested the more positive sounding picture of a tanker that had everybody on board working hard to change direction.

“It’s not a juggernaut hurdling towards a catastrophic end, it is a tanker that is being turned around,” he said.

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