A call for more action over challenges facing the Outer Hebrides came yesterday from Mr Bernard Chisholm, Director of Education and Children's Services at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, as almost 200 people from a wide of projects serving the community gathered for the annual Partnership Event.
Mr Chisholm explained to the meeting at the Cabarfeidh Hotel how the department had instigated the Partnership Events in 2011 with a far smaller number attending. They arose from the recognition that without a total support system around young people we could not be successful.
Since then a series of improvements had enabled the service – in partnership with others – to greatly improve the context for young people to progress.
“Sometimes it is important not to let people or procedures get in the way of doing the right thing and often now I am finding a greater confidence on focusing on what is right and trying to do that.”
Throughout all the myriad changes in the service, there remains a constant – the aim to get young people through school to find a job, raise a family and look forward to a good future.
He stated: “We are resource-rich. As a director of education, I have a budget of more than £40 million, and 3,400 children to work with a thousand staff. There’s no way that isn’t great resources.”
But there’s even more available when these resources are combined with the plethora of agencies and groups gathered in the room. But sometimes people and procedures meant services operated in separate silos and there are a range of joint planning efforts now set up to avoid this.
Because of wider involvement with employers and other organisations, around 34 per cent of pupils in the final three senior school years took applied learning courses – the highest in Scotland. And they had similar levels of success getting into work.
Mr Chisholm praised the work of the secondary schools throughout the islands for the work they had done and the way they worked together and with other agencies to ensure the best outcomes.
The department had run a series of community signature events to correctly determine people’s concerns. First was housing; employment; transport; and the need for single points of contact to variegated services; and finally greater security as they got older. And they wanted more available in their immediate local areas.
For the last 35 years, the number of young people in schools has fallen each year. And the main reason is the lack of jobs. So the Islands need workforce planning to fill the thousands of new and replacement job opportunities that need to be filled over the next few years.
CnES has created an apprenticeships system for the Islands – with 56 within CnES alone – and they had surveyed the Islands 375 employers to see what is required for the future. Many young people wanted to work crofts, 80 per cent of which were not being used, and they wanted to have homes on or near the crofts.
Mr Chisholm warned: “The more young people go off the Island to study, the more they meet the person they are going to marry within five years and the fewer come back, fewer females come back than males and all of that challenges our sustainability.” He pointed out that it cost around £10,000 a year for parents to keep a youngster away at university – so they were developing more ways to allow for paying work and training together locally.
He said the aim was to create 1500 new jobs – and in the last 12-18 months, working together, they had created 217 – 154 were new jobs and there were 51 in the private sector. “So actually we have seen the evidence since we met here last year, that if you can make a real impact and huge thanks to everyone who worked with us to do this.
“It’s definitely not so much an education policy we need as an economic one. The risk of doing nothing is far greater than the risk of doing something.
“Sticking with what we had in the past will give us the same results and they will not move us forward the way we need to go.”