Vitality of small schools

North Roe, Ollaberry, Urafirth, Olnafirth, Skeld, Happyhansel, Uyeasound. What have they all got in common? Rhetorical!

As I sit here on this beautiful midsummer afternoon (I’m in Skerries), I’m wondering how many other teachers have been as lucky as I have to have been in each of them, working in all but Uyeasound.

I have considered it a real privilege to have been exposed to the many young minds over the years. I will have so many, many precious memories.

The sterling work done in these smaller establishments is truly amazing. Each small school reflects its own community, the interests and relevancies. The children are happy, confident, and most assuredly, they are learning.

They are also teaching, for the likes o an auld body like me. I need an eight-year old to colour photocopy and to laminate (once when sent for a laminator, I returned with something else).

The family grouping just happens. Many island families have several children which has been helpful in keeping the schools open.

Orkney has always envied Shetland for being able to keep up the peedie schools. I certainly hope that the status quo remains.

Pupils in the small rural schools enjoy such an enviable advantage of being personally known to the staff who also know their families and their circumstances. How often have I quoted that there’s no substitute for local knowledge.

Take singing, for instance. The smaller the group, the less inhibited its members tend to be and there’s nothing finer than a bunch o peedie bairns singing because that’s what they want to do. I heard Hamefarers boasting of how they had enjoyed the school bairns’ entertainments in Skeld and Ollaberry and Voe.

No community is isolated these days, and a variety of visitors ensure that the children’s social skills are honed, and the next generation is providing the hospitality that our islands are renowned for.

Apropos the secondary department in Skerries, where again I have had the joy to teach over the years, it is so fine for those young folk to be able to bide in the island of their choice. No many o dem is wantin to leave. There is little doubt that they have a full and varied curriculum, are well adjusted and go on to lead productive lives.

Enormous emphasis on social development means that when for example, it’s Christmas dinner, the senior pupils are involved in its planning, preparation and delivery.

Just today I had the pleasure of watching, along with members of the community outside the school, a sports day, run by Carla and Sharyn from the secondary.

The purpose of teachers is to help us to get along without teachers. That happens in Skerries. To close this well-used school, busy every day through the week, will be to rip the heart out of this community, and leave a significantly ageing population.

Dorothy Thomson


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