Shetland Islands Children To Be 'Forced' To Board At School

04/11/2014 11:53 | Updated 20 May 2015

Symbister House now a secondary school, Whalsay, Shetland Isla

Shetland Islanders are battling council plans to close secondary schools on two of the islands, which would see children as young as 11 being made to board away from home during the week.

Currently, children on the smaller islands attend local schools up until they take their Standard exams at the age of 15 or 16. Those wishing to continue their education then relocate to a sixth form on Mainland, the largest and most populous of the islands.

But under council plans, designed to save £3 million from the island group's budget, junior high schools on Whalsay and Yell would be closed, and their 112 pupils moved to Anderson High secondary school on Mainland.

Given the difficult geography of the rocky island group, a daily school run would be impossible, so pupils attending the Anderson High School would be obliged to live in a specially-built hostel during the week.

Parents are passionately opposed to both that proposal and a smaller scale one which would see only final year students - aged 13 and 14 - forced off their home island to complete their education.

Concerned mums and dads have put together an emotional video outlining the devastating impact such a change would have not only on local families, but on the tight-knit community of the remote islands.

Council officials, however, insist that they have pupils' interests at heart. They argue that the increase in vocational and workplace training in secondary education demanded by new curriculum reforms would be impossible to provide on islands with a population of around 1000.

The controversial plans, which have been branded a 'disaster', have been at the heart of fiery public meetings on Whalsay and Yell which attracted a turnout of over 200 people. That may not sound like much, but it represents almost a fifth of the total population.

"Folk feel that their concerns are falling on deaf ears," parent council chairwoman Kari Hamilton told Shetland News. "They keep saying they are taking our opinions on board, but they have done nothing so far to show us they are doing that."

The overwhelming response by parents has forced the council to put their original plan to close all junior high schools on the two islands on the back-burner for the time being, but parents remain afraid that their concerns are not being taken into account.

"This does not feel like a consultation to a lot of folk," said Mid Yell parent council chairman John Irvine. "All they want to do is close schools and save money, but this is a process we have to go through."

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