By Alastair HamiltonOctober 20th 2017
Alastair Hamilton

After 155 years, Shetland’s largest secondary school is moving from its original site to an impressive new building.

The Anderson High School was opened – as the Anderson Educational Institute – in August 1862. It was the gift of Arthur Anderson, who was a Shetland entrepreneur, liberal reformer and co-founder of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, which we know today as P&O.

Anderson wanted to improve educational provision for the children of poorer families and for those whose parents could afford to pay fees, so his new school catered for both. He bought a site south of the town centre, overlooking Bressay Sound and the island of Bressay beyond. The building – the design of which has a hint of French chateau – contained a north and a south wing and, between them, a house for the Headmaster, which was sufficiently large for him to keep boarders as a means of supplementing his income, hardly a solution that would be favoured today.

a hint of French chateau

That arrangement continued until 1902, when the new Central School (now the Islesburgh Community Centre) opened and the elementary pupils moved there, releasing more space for the secondary students. From then on, the school roll continued to expand, so in 1926 an extension was added and the Headmaster’s house was converted to classrooms. The roll through the 1920s and 1930s grew to around 150. A playing field was added, too.

The school was requisitioned as a military hospital during the Second World War, its pupils being accommodated, not without difficulty, in the Central School. After the war, the roll continued to grow, reaching 202 in 1948, and temporary classrooms were erected in the grounds. In the centenary year, 1962, further expansion began, as there were now nearly 350 students. Many more classrooms, a large assembly hall and a new gymnasium were added at that time.

In the move to comprehensive education, the Anderson Educational Institute became the Anderson High School and further accommodation continued to be required, including a Games Hall, a science block and, in 2005, a new Additional Support Needs department. Well before the millennium, the school population was in excess of 800; the roll in September 2017 was 884.

the roll in September 2017 was 884

All of this expansion meant that the original school, now housing only the English department, was hemmed in on all sides by buildings of many ages and styles. Among them, to the north, is the Bruce Hostel, begun in 1914 and gifted by Robert H Bruce of Sumburgh and Lunna. To the south, beyond the 1960s developments, is the Art Deco influenced Janet Courtney Hostel, completed in 1939 but also requisitioned for military use and first used by the school in 1947.

Given the sprawling nature of the school, the need for a completely new building has long been accepted, but its location was a matter of debate for several years. In the end, it was decided that the advantages of starting on a completely new site, with much less disruption to students and staff, outweighed other considerations. The new location – adjacent to the Clickimin Leisure Centre – allows students to make use of its excellent sports facilities.

the need for a completely new building has long been accepted

Work on the new building, and its adjacent hostel for students who live farther away, has been under way since July 2015. It has, at times, been a challenging project for the contractors, with hard rock that was encountered proving remarkably stubborn. However, they managed to keep to the timetable and the Shetland Islands Council has now taken possession of the buildings.

The Council's Chief Executive, Mark Boden, hailed it as “a landmark day for Shetland”.

He continued: “The Council has realised the aspiration of many years and delivered a state of the art, modern school. It will provide an ideal learning environment for Shetland’s children, and give school staff the best possible opportunity to deliver first class education.

“This has been the Council’s biggest building project, with the construction contract costing £55.75 million. I want to pay tribute to the many organisations and hundreds of individuals who have contributed to the project; every single person’s contribution was vital and is appreciated.

He added that they should all be proud of what they had achieved and he praised and thanked Helen Budge, Director of Children’s Services, who led the project for the Council. “She and her team have done a fantastic job.”

In the end, of course, a school is about much more than the buildings. The Anderson High School has always offered high-quality education, usually exceeding the standards achieved by schools with similar student profiles. Those of us whose children have been educated at the Anderson know that it has consistently encouraged the development of confident, articulate and responsible young people with enquiring minds, very well equipped to make their way in the world. Anyone moving to Shetland can be sure that the standard of education, whether in primary or secondary schools, is high. The Head Teacher and her staff are determined to maintain those standards.

One aspect of that innovation has been the school’s remarkable role in building international links and promoting global citizenship. It was here that the concept of the Global Classroom was born, led by then history teacher Stewart Hay, who in 2009 was awarded the MBE for services to local and international education. Senior students from the Anderson High have travelled to Australia, Japan, Germany, the Czech Republic, South Africa, Sweden and the United States and have welcomed their peers from all those countries to Shetland. Some such visits are relatively brief, lasting up to a month, but there is also the opportunity for some students to spend up to a year studying in one of the partner schools around the world. More than 30 schools have been involved since the roots of the project were put down in 1989.

It was here that the concept of the Global Classroom was born

The blend of innovation, curiosity and the pursuit of strong ideals, combined with excellent pupil support, is surely an excellent foundation for the next chapter in the school’s history. In the words of the school motto, there’s no doubt that those who pass through its doors will continue to Dö Weel and Persevere.