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Education / Skeld parent council voices strong opposition to potential school mothballing

A decision is expected to be taken on the possible mothballing of Skeld Primary School later this month

PARENTS of Skeld Primary School have written to councillors urging them to reconsider its potential mothballing.

The school’s parent council also called on Shetland Islands Council (SIC) to conduct a “thorough review of the mothballing and un-mothballing processes before making a decision that could irreversibly impact our children’s education and our communities’ future”.

A report on the potential mothballing will be presented to councillors on the SIC’s education and families committee on 15 April, and it is expected a decision will be taken at that meeting.

The Westside school was brought under consideration for mothballing due to its roll falling below a 20 per cent capacity threshold last year.

Cullivoe Primary School was in the same position but it has since been confirmed that councillors will be recommended to stop the process as a result of expected increase in pupil numbers.

A report which went in front of councillors in March said that as of November 2023 the projected roll for Skeld in 2024/25 was six pupils, at a capacity of ten per cent excluding reserved spaces.

In the meantime an online petition against Skeld’s potential mothballing has attracted nearly 500 signatures.

Mothballing is when a school is closed to pupils but continues to be maintained and could be re-opened if the roll increases to a certain level. At the moment there are mothballed schools in Skerries, Papa Stour and Fetlar.

In a letter to SIC councillors and also the Scottish education minister, the Skeld Primary School parent council said it continues to have “strong opposition” to the potential mothballing.

Skeld Primary School. Photo © Russel Wills (cc-by-sa/2.0)

“We firmly believe that this decision not only undermines the educational foundation of our community but also contradicts the Shetland Islands Council’s commitment to supporting rural communities and ensuring equitable educational opportunities,” the letter said.

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“The lack of comprehensive stakeholder engagement throughout the mothballing process, as highlighted in both the heavily attended meeting at Skeld Hall and the petition garnering nearly 500 signatures, is a significant concern.

“It appears that the focus has been limited to the immediate school community, neglecting the broader community whose input is equally crucial.”

The parent council claimed that the “voices and concerns of our community members” have been “treated more as formalities rather than integral parts of the decision-making process”.

It said this “raises doubts about the thoroughness of the impact assessment but also questions the sincerity of the process itself”.

Under new principles agreed by councillors last year mothballing consultation is trigged when a school’s roll drops below 20 per cent of its capacity.

The SIC is also using a ‘mothballing toolkit’ created by education partnership Northern Alliance.

Shetland Islands Council’s children’s services director Helen Budge previously said information provided by the school communities would be taken into account and properly evaluated during the different stages of the process.

An update report to councillors last month also said meetings had been held with Skeld staff and parents.

But the letter said: “It is extremely concerning that the wider community will be excluded from the decision-making process until after a decision has been reached.

“When considering the mothballing of a school, the level of consultation appears inadequate, involving only a handful of parents. This approach is unacceptable and manipulates a small group of parents to achieve a predetermined outcome.”

The parent council further said an impact assessment is incomplete and has “not been shared with stakeholders”.

It encouraged the SIC to explore alternatives to mothballing while “actively working to increase enrolment numbers”.

It also suggested potential alternative uses for the school building, such as repurposing it for community programmes and adult education, or renting out rooms for other uses.

The letter added that “while mothballing may offer short-term financial relief, the long-term adverse effects on the community and future generations could far outweigh any initial savings”.

The parent council also alleged that it appeared the “decision has already been made without any attempt to avoid the mothballing of Skeld school”.

It said it was aware of eight placing requests in the area for other schools which are related to convenience for working parents.

“If these children were encouraged back into the area the numbers would be suitable for the school to remain open,” the letter added.

“This evidence shows that the population is not decreasing in the area meaning a school is still required. “

The letter added that at a recent parent council meeting, “it was acknowledged by the education officers that the process for un-mothballing was not currently suitable and would undergo review later in the year”.

“We expressed concern that a policy is being enforced despite the incomplete readiness and the necessity for further testing before implementation,” it added.

In its conclusion, the parent council also noted that the Skeld school nursery is increasing its funded hours provision this year, and that a distillery development has been proposed in the area.

In response, SIC children’s services director Helen Budge said: “On 15 April 2024 a report on the mothballing of Skeld Primary School will be presented to the council’s education and families committee.

“The report will include all the information gathered through ‘assessing the situation’ stage of the mothballing toolkit.

“It will be for the education and families committee to make a decision on the mothballing of Skeld Primary School.”

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