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Education / ‘My job is first and foremost about the bairns’ – Budge reflects ahead of retirement later this year

OVERSEEING the development of the new Anderson High School has been picked as a key highlight for the council’s outgoing children’s services director Helen Budge as she prepares to retire later this year.

She described it as a “fantastic experience”, culminating in pupils entering the new build in October 2017 in what was an emotional moment for the education chief.

Outgoing director of children’s services Helen Budge.

Last week Shetland Islands Council confirmed Budge would be retiring in September after 13 years in the children’s services director job.

A key reason was that her daughters were keen to have her help on their farm in Bigton.

“I love my job, I love what I do, I enjoy all the ups and down,” she told Shetland News as she reflected on her time at the helm, “but the lasses have built up a successful business and they asked if I would come and support them.”

When asked about the highlights, Budge first pointed to the new Anderson and the halls of residence.

“I’d never led a capital project of that kind of size,” she said.

“I’d been senior responsible officer on Mid Yell but nothing to the scale and extent of the Anderson High School and halls of residence.

“And it was a fantastic experience, being able to see that whole construction from first of all the clearing of the site right through to the building being in situ.”

It is fair to say overseeing the development of the multi-million school, Shetland’s largest, is a far cry from her initial beginnings in education.

She drove from her home in Bigton to Northmavine every day after landing a job at the Urafirth School in 1989.

She described it as a “brilliant experience”, adding that there was a “real sense of a peerie community”.

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It was onwards to Dunrossness before Budge found herself at Hayfield House in Lerwick, the home of children’s services.

She said the role was only due to last for three months in 1999 – “and here I am”.

“I have worked with fantastic folk across both Shetland Islands Council and at a national level as well,” Budge said.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time. I always like to think I put the bairns first, and I’m wanting to make sure their voices are heard in whatever way that is.”

Some of the more difficult moments are likely to be school closures, such as in Voe and Bressay, and mothballing; the most recent of which came earlier this month when councillors voted to mothball Skeld Primary School.

Meanwhile Budge presided over Shetland’s schools during the Covid pandemic when buildings were shut in favour of virtual learning, and guidance from government was often changing at speed.

Some of her other highlights in the job include children’s services having its own standalone directorate, and that around 97 per cent of Shetland’s young people go on to “positive sustained destinations”.

She also noted the impact a new residential home for children in Tingwall is having on the number of youngsters needing to go off Shetland, as well as projects like #ShetlandCrew – a group of care experienced young people – and the OPEN peer education scheme.

“I want all our young folk to be able to get the best opportunities so they can go on to be whatever they want to be,” Budge said.

“That’s what my job is all about. It’s first and foremost about the bairns.”

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