If elected I will work strenuously with all five islands to make sure the schools are preserved despite unprecedented cutbacks from the Scottish Government alongside the end of the moratorium and probable pressure from the SIC to reduce rural education budgets. I will also work hard at rebuilding the broken trust between the rural communities and the Shetland Islands Council.
The strength of feeling about rural school closures has been palpable in the North Isles for years now. I was, and remain, a proud supporter of Communities United for Rural Education (CURE), who led a hard-fought campaign backed by thousands in not just out Northern Isles, but across the entire mainland.
All five of the North Isles have at some point had threats placed upon them in regards to reducing the level of education on our islands, and face further threats in the future, particularly as the Scottish Government continue to impose annual budget cuts on the Council.
Education is certainly a topic I am passionate about. As a former pupil of Baltasound Junior High School, I know the importance, not only of a local secondary school to a child, but to a school in a remote location.
I know the importance that school is to local people. It’s not just about being able to put your bairn in a local school, it’s also about what a local school represents – a future. A school in the Isles means that people can start a family, or move back to raise their bairns on the isle, knowing that there’s a local school they can attend. It has far-reaching economic implications.
Losing a school wouldn’t just rip the heart out of that community, but it would also have a serious detrimental knock on effect to every single business on that island. We must preserve all schools. Baltasound, Fetlar, Cullivoe, Mid Yell, Burravoe, Symbister and the recently mothballed Skerries. These schools are absolutely irreplaceable.
There has been talk of reducing secondary education at Baltasound Junior High School with no real plan if something goes wrong (e.g. the ferries stop and the children are stranded). Closing Secondary departments across Shetland and shipping the bairns to Lerwick. Why? Finances. Nothing to do with education what so ever. We know this now.
Anderson Solutions, who conducted an independent review of the SIC report into rural school closures concluded that the Council had lied to the public about the price per pupil difference between Shetland and Orkney. The SIC claimed there was a £3,800 difference when the figure was closer to around £200.
They quote “The (Council) report, through a lack of clarity, has done little to correct the publicly presented information on the high cost of Shetlands Secondary Education compared to other island groups. For example, at no stage does the report clearly state that known anomalies means that the published figure is wrong. We hope that the report by the SIC Childrens Services will provide a more objective, fair and valuable contribution to understanding the costs of Secondary Education in Shetland. Hopefully a more objective and transparent contribution will also go some way to rebuilding trust between the two sides.”
The final sentence in that report is the most damming and the most concerning. The report concludes that the council and those living in rural areas are on different sides. Unfortunately when it comes to education there is a ‘them against us’ mentality among islanders who believe their schools are being unfairly targeted.
As a business owner, I’m not naive to the financial reality facing the Council, but if I am elected I will make the case to other councillors that we must take a long term view to the sustainability of our rural communities. The slow death of any of our Northern Isles will ultimately be far more costly to Shetland than the small savings made by shutting schools – both economically and culturally.