THE primary school on the Shetland island of Bressay - currently costing the islands council almost £40,000 to teach each of the four remaining pupils - is set to be axed.
Shetland Islands Council today announced that a consultation report on the future of the school, to be published on Monday, will recommend the closure of both the Bressay Primary School and Nursery Class.
The school was brought to the brink of closure last year after the pupil roll collapsed from around 40 a decade ago to just four pupils. Nearly three quarters of parents on the island who have school-aged children send their children to Lerwick or elsewhere for their primary education.
Pupils from Bressay are expected to be transferred to Bell’s Brae Primary in Lerwick.
A spokeswoman for the islands council said today: “Following a period of statutory consultation which took place from 30 September to 26 November, the consultation report on the proposed closure of Bressay Primary School and Nursery Class will be published on Monday.
“The consultation report will recommend that Bressay Primary School closes on 4 July 2014, and that the pupils transfer to Bell’s Brae Primary School from the beginning of the next school year, on 18 August 2014. The report will also recommend the closure of Bressay Primary School Nursery Class.”
The recommendation for closure will be considered by Shetland Islands Council’s Education and Families Committee at a meeting on 10 February.
A report by education officials on the proposed closure, issued last year at the start of the consultation process, states: “Bressay Primary School is operating at 5.3 per cent capacity; Bell’s Brae Primary School is operating at 68 per cent capacity. The latest information on costs per pupil indicates that in this financial year, the estimated total cost per pupil at Bressay Primary School is £39,259. The total cost per pupil at Bell’s Brae Primary School is £5,481. The latest published figures show that the average cost per primary pupil in Shetland is £6,614 and in Scotland is £4,090.
“Transferring pupils from Bressay Primary School will offer the opportunity for pupils to join more viable cohorts of pupils for taking part in group learning activities, team events and sporting competitions. It will mean there is access to a larger peer group of a similar age, stage and gender for learning. Children’s Services considers that there would be educational benefits to the pupils “
Bressay is situated directly across from the islands’ capital of Lerwick. The report continues: “The two schools are 2.5 miles apart including the short seven-minute ferry crossing. The transfer of pupils from Bressay Primary School would not result in unacceptable travel time for pupils, however this does mean a different type of journey for these pupils.”
The report adds “The school building in Bressay, if the school closed, has the potential to be used to support the sustainability of the island. It could be used as a base for remote working if it were to be retained by Shetland Islands Council. The building could also be let to businesses for office space or sold.”
Beatrice Lowe, chair of the Bressay Parent Council, has appealed for the primary to be saved in her response to the closure proposal.
She states in a letter to the council: “We understand that providing a school for only four pupils at a time when the schools service is having to cut back in so many areas may seem to some hard to justify but we feel our case is very exceptional.
“Education being delivered on Bressay means parents who do not work in the town can continue to take responsibility for their children if they are ill, or an incident occurs where a close family member should be quickly available to their child. The stretch of water between Bressay and Lerwick would not only affect parents’ ability to be with their child at a time of need but would also add considerably to the school day. The current journey time of five to ten minutes each way will increase to at least 45 minutes probably an hour for some, reducing the time available for playing and socialising with friends and family and will be very tiring, particularly for the younger bairns.”
She continues: “We have recently experienced a very sudden drop in the number of pupils, but we believe the numbers will rise again. Alongside the Bressay Community Council we hope to use the strong desire within Bressay to keep the school open as a catalyst to develop the Island and promote a more positive perception of living here. This will require time though and we feel that a consultation on closure will make any attempt to increase the school roll impossible. Both the School and the Parent Council have played such a huge role socially over recent years it would be a huge loss to the whole community if it is to close.”
The council has also announced plans to begin another series of consultations over further cutbacks on 13 February. Officials are proposing to provide secondary education only up to the end of Secondary Two at Baltasound Junior High School; Mid Yell Junior High School; Whalsay School; Sandwick Junior High School and Aith Junior High School.
Four statutory consultations will also be carried out on the proposed closure of another for primaries over the next two years. These are Burravoe, Sandness, and two of the three primary schools in Northmavine.
Councillor Vaila Wishart, the chair of the SIC’s Education and Families Committee, said: “This is a critical time for Education in Shetland. Council members have taken decisions which pave the way to major change in both the secondary and primary system, and which will see pupils across the isles supported to get the very best education we can provide.
“ Staff are working very hard to give everyone concerned every opportunity to be involved in the process.”