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Education / Council officials recommend Skeld school mothballing

COUNCILLORS will be recommended to mothball Skeld Primary School when the matter goes up for decision next week.

If councillors side with the recommendation then pupils in the catchment area would attend Aith Junior High School from August onwards.

Consideration of mothballing was triggered last year after new principles were agreed by councillors.

This includes consideration of consulting on possible mothballing when school rolls fall below a 20 per cent capacity threshold.

Skeld school’s parent council wrote to elected members last week voicing deep concern against the possible mothballing.

An online petition against mothballing has also attracted nearly 500 signatures.

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

The report to Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) education and families committee, which will meet on Monday morning, says a decision to mothball would be reviewed annually.

If the school roll rises above the 20 per cent capacity figure then consideration would be given to re-opening the building.

The report said there were seven primary pupils at the school in November, and as of March this year there were four in the primary and two in nursery.

The threshold for consideration of mothballing at Skeld is 12 pupils.

The council says the projected rolls up to 2026/27 for the primary remains four, and in 2024/25 there is one pupil expected in the nursery.

In 2024/25 there are 12 primary aged children who live in Skeld’s catchment area, but eight of them will attend other schools in the Westside through the choice of their families.

The SIC has classified those parents and carers who have submitted placing requests for their children to attend other Westside schools as not being in opposition to the Skeld mothballing proposal.

It is anticipated that all Skeld staff would be redeployed into existing vacant posts within the SIC’s children’s services department.

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The recommendation to mothball comes after three months of assessment, which included consultation with the school community.

The report says some parents and carers are very opposed to mothballing, whilst others recognise there will be very small numbers if the school remains open.

The opinion of children’s services is that the views gathered, and the high percentage of placing requests outwith Skeld, “do not demonstrate that a majority of parents and carers residing in the Skeld Primary School catchment area oppose the proposal to mothball”.

The report adds that if councillors do not accept this, and believe that the majority are opposed, then under principles agreed last year there would be further exploration of the case for mothballing.

The report to councillors highlights that Skeld staff provide “very good education” to children and meet their needs.

Some views from pupils were included in the report to councillors, and they varied from concern and upset to an acknowledgment that there would be more opportunities to make friends in Aith.

It said staff have spoken about their “sadness, as they are a very good team who work well together in a very good building”.

However the report said staff also understand there are low numbers of children and therefore the reasons why mothballing is being considered.

One alternative is to keep the school open, but there is a warning it would continue to meet the trigger point for mothballing.

Elected members, however, may wish to consider whether there should be an exemption in this case for Skeld, the report added.

Another alternative would be to move to statutory consultation for full school closure, but this could take up to 18 months.

The report said the cost of running Skeld Primary School is £344,00 a year, but the fact that savings would be made should not be the basis for decision making.

There would be an additional cost of £21,400 in 2024/25 to transport children to Aith instead of Skeld.

Cullivoe Primary School was also placed under mothballing consideration but its expected increase in pupil numbers means the process has been stopped.

Shetland currently has three mothballed primary schools – Papa Stour, Skerries and Fetlar.

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