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Education / Delight for Sandwick school parent council at inspection progress

Sandwick Junior High School. Photo: Dave Donaldson

THE SANDWICK Junior High parent and carer council says it is “delighted” that inspectors are now satisfied with the school’s progress.

Meanwhile Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) education and families committee chairman Davie Sandison said he hoped the news would offer “significant reassurance” to the community following a mixed inspection report in 2019 and two subsequent follow-up visits.

Earlier this month the SIC confirmed that no follow-up visits are now planned and that inspectors had the confidence that the school has the capacity to improve.

It comes as a new headteacher is set to take up post at the school in August.

Joint chairs of the Sandwick parent and carer council Katie Leask and Debbie Jamieson said in a statement to Shetland News: “We know how much work this has taken and are grateful for the level of dedication shown from staff and acting head teacher Sam Flaws.

“We are so pleased for the whole South Mainland community that the school has the outcome we all hoped for, and we look forward to welcoming our new head teacher and continuing to support the school as we move forward together.”

Shetland Central councillor Davie Sandison.

Sandison said the progress lets the school staff “really breathe and take a look at things in a different light”.

“I think from top to bottom in that place, everybody will be very, very pleased indeed,” he said.

Meanwhile freedom of information figures have shown an increasing number of secondary pupils have been granted transfers to the Anderson High from Sandwick since the Lerwick school opened in 2017.

Forty five placing requests were granted for transferring secondary pupils from Sandwick Junior High School to the Anderson in 2022/23, compared to 16 in 2017/18.

This is allied with a reduced school roll in Sandwick’s secondary, and an increased roll in the Anderson.

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The only other school in Shetland which offers secondary five and six provision apart from the Anderson is Brae High School, with Sandwick only going up from nursery to S4 for pupils in the South Mainland.

Since the new Anderson building opened in 2017 its school roll has increased from 877 to 1,011 – although the projected figure is for the next year is 990. Its capacity is 1,180.

During that time the roll at Sandwick’s secondary has dropped from 136 to 94, although it is expected to rise to 107 in 2023/24.

The number of placing requests between the two schools has been reflected, for instance, in the increased number of pupils taking the public bus from the South Mainland to Lerwick to attend the Anderson.

Pupils given placing requests have to pay for their bus fare, however free transport on Scotland’s buses was extended to folk up aged 21 last year. But placing requests for any school can be a complex situation with a variety of factors.

Children’s services director Helen Budge acknowledged that parents have a right to choose where their child gets their education, but she thinks folk will be “reflective” of the school’s upward progress when they decide where to place their child.

Shetland South councillor Allison Duncan meanwhile has long called for the amalgamation of schools in Shetland to save money, particularly in his ward, and he reiterated that this is still his view.

Duncan believes this could make “massive savings” at a time when the SIC is looking to find cost reductions – but he stressed he would want to see this reinvested back into the council’s schools budget to “enhance the education of all our pupils around Shetland”.

But the senior councillor freely admits that in the SIC chamber there needs to be a majority consensus among members to achieve change – while the emotive issue of school closures has not been mentioned in the cost-cutting process for 2023/24.

Meanwhile councillors on the education and families committee heard on Monday about an external review commissioned by the SIC around the Sandwick inspection reports.

The independent review, written on 1 March, examined the role the council played in the process.

It said there was evidence of “ongoing central support being provided to Sandwick Junior High School by the children’s services team”. However it noted that the “frequent changes in leadership led to an extended period of fragmentation”.

Examples of positive action included the preparation of a “robust” action plan in response to the 2019 inspection and improved communication between the school and parents/carers.

Eight recommendations are included in the report, three of which directly relate to Sandwick – including a review to measure the ongoing recruitment and retention issues at the school.

It also recommends a review into the level, frequency and reasons for absence within the school.

Across the wider children’s services department there are recommendations regarding monitoring progress at schools and the quality of engagement with parent councils and parents.

Shetland South councillor Bryan Peterson. Photo: SIC

During Monday’s meeting Shetland South councillor Bryan Peterson said the community had felt like there was a “dark cloud” hanging over them during the inspection process.

“I hope this represents a new dawn for Sandwick school,” he said.

Meanwhile there is no update from the council regarding the status of a funding bid submitted to the Scottish Government last year for a possible new Brae school.

Previous estimates have put a new build at around £40 million, which is more than double some initial predictions.

If the Scottish Government comes back with an offer of funding it is then up to Shetland councillors to decide how to progress.

No decisions have been made yet over any possible site for a new build, or any designs.

The council was able to use an already approved strategic outline case as part of its funding bid submission.

A report which also went in front of Monday’s education and families committee highlighted that “exploratory work” is underway regarding the establishment of enhanced provision facilities in some schools.

“The necessary business cases will be presented at future meetings as those plans come to fruition,” it added.

“In order to inform and progress this work, an accessibility design brief has been drafted and will be published during the next term.”

The report added that work is ongoing to monitor primary school capacities, and is underway in conjunction with the Northern Alliance in terms of establishing capacities for secondary settings.

It also said that “work is ongoing in respect of a number of business justification cases, namely outdoor learning, multicourt resurfacing and car park improvements”.

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