Shetland Islanders fight plan to force children to boarding school

The Guardian has a report from the Shetlands where secondaries on the outlying islands are facing closure which would mean 11-year-olds sent away from home during the week…

Up to 112 children aged as young as 11 are set to be forcibly sent to boarding school under controversial plans by Shetland Islands council. The most radical proposal now under public consultation would see three junior high schools closed on the smaller islands by 2016, and pupils sent to board at Anderson high school on Shetland’s biggest island, Mainland…

Islanders are worried and angry. In recent consultation meetings on Whalsay and Yell, community halls were packed full of parents who made their distress clear to officials and councillors.

“The feeling was totally unanimous against both proposals,” says Lynne Wilson, a Whalsay parent and teacher at the junior high. “Some … were quite emotional. But it really did feel like knocking your head against a brick wall.”

Shetland council claims its plans are intended to improve pupils’ education. Gary Robinson, independent leader of the council, says: “What we’re offering is a better education than they would get on the islands.” Since Scottish government reforms in 2010, local authorities must provide a wide range of vocational and workplace experiences alongside the standard curriculum in the final three years of secondary school. Robinson says offering quality placements and vocational training will be difficult enough on Mainland, which has a population of 19,000, let alone on the smaller outlying islands with communities numbering around 1,000 each.

But parents, who have formed a campaign group called Communities United for Rural Education (Cure), disagree. “Education here works,” says Louise Johnson, Emily’s mum. This summer, the first cohort of secondary students in Scotland took the new national qualifications since the 2010 Curriculum for Excellence reforms. According to figures from Shetland council, Mid Yell and Whalsay schools outperformed average results for the rest of Shetland. More than 85% of Mid Yell students and 79.7% of Whalsay pupils passed the National 5 exams (the Scottish equivalent of GCSEs taken at 14) at grades A-C, whereas for Shetland overall 78.9% did. Wilson asks: “Why would you force your children away from home, especially to a school where frankly they’ll get a poorer result?”

The parents argue that closing the schools on the smaller islands is all about making cuts, not about raising educational outcomes. Robinson disagrees. “The reality is that this council has always prioritised education, and has always spent more than it’s got from government on education,” he says. Central government hands over £29.5m a year for Shetland’s education system. The council, he says, stumps up £48.5m that has to be found from somewhere. But Robinson has to admit that, with the council’s grant reduced by 18% since 2010, “like every other authority in the land we are having to reduce our costs”. Would closing outlying schools cut educational costs? “I do believe the savings we’ve estimated are accurate,” he says carefully…

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Comments

  1. FionaTipper

    SchoolsImprove personally I would leave the island with my child, it’s only for 7 years. Compulsory boarding is outrageous!

  2. MatthewRHead

    SchoolsImprove has been case in Isles of Scilly for many years. There may be an issue in keeping young on the island after but most cope

  3. annietrev

    SchoolsImprove parents should have choice for local education & if they are happy with outcomes and economics hold up then keep them open.

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