The Convener of Orkney Islands Council has issued a plea for families to consider making the outer isles their home when planning a move.
Councillor Harvey Johnston said the forecasted falling school roll in many of the smaller isles’ schools was a cause for concern.
“Predictions indicate a continuing reduction in the number of bairns in the isles. We must look to how we can encourage and create more opportunities for viable communities in the outer isles. There may be a post-COVID relocation of people from urban centres who see the huge benefits of staying in our outer isles, particularly when bringing up bairns. While telecommunications may be an issue, there are so many good things about our islands and we need to be encouraging folk to stay elsewhere, other than just in our towns.”
Chair of the OIC Education, Leisure and Housing Committee, Councillor Gwenda Shearer said the forecasted school roll position report for schools across Orkney for 2021-2026 made for interesting reading.
She acknowledged that while difficult to predict with any certainty, the forecasting gave the Council the opportunity to plan ahead in terms of potential school development, staffing requirements and class sizes.
“The report does refer to the difficulties in prediction with any certainty, however, the forecasting based on a number of factors will give the Council the opportunity to plan ahead in terms of potential school development, staffing requirement and class sizes, as well as capital programmes.”
Analysis was undertaken on all of Orkney’s 17 primary schools, three junior high schools and two secondary schools.
Peter Diamond, OIC Head of Education explained: “The changes that are being introduced to early years’ education adds to the need for the Council to have an estimate of the number of children who are expected to come through Orkney’s schools and early years’ centres.
“The school roll forecasts are based on information the Council has available in respect of current school rolls; demographic forecasts and estimates; births data; migration data; school transfer requests and housing development completion estimates.
“School roll forecasts estimate the size of a school’s population a number of years in advance and are useful for planning the required staffing resources, school estate, catchment area revisions and potential challenges that may emerge from particularly large or small year groups.
“While useful, school roll forecasts are estimates based upon available information at the time of the forecast. This is particularly true for smaller schools where the addition or loss of a single family with children can have a significant impact upon the school roll. Therefore, school roll forecasting is not an exact science.”
Of the larger Mainland primary schools, Papdale is forecast to see the only real increase in roll. Glaitness, Dounby and St Andrews primaries are forecast to see very slight increases in their rolls. Stromness is forecast to see a slight drop in their total roll figures.
The smaller Mainland primary schools of St Margaret’s Hope, Burray and Stenness are all forecast to see minimal changes in their roll. Evie is forecast to see a drop of five pupils and Firth, a drop of 12 pupils from the current 2020 school roll figure. Orphir is forecast to see an increase in roll, with an estimated 11 extra pupils from current levels. Burray is forecast to go beyond the P1 to P7 capacity as early as 2021/2022. However, this is estimated to be a short to medium-term issue as four comparatively large class groups are moving through the school and forecasts show that they will be replaced with slightly smaller classes starting at the school. However, birth figures are strong in Burray and this may increase pressure.
In terms of the Isles primary schools, there are predicted declines and increases.
Figures for the two Mainland Orkney secondary schools show rolls rising initially in both schools, before dropping back towards the end of the forecast period.
The forecasts show that there is some available capacity within Orkney’s schools, with the main areas of pressure around Kirkwall.
Councillors at the Education, Leisure and Housing Committee noted the report.