The mother of Foula’s only school pupil is relieved that her son can finally get back to school now that the building has been declared safe after being closed for four weeks.
Resident Penny Gear was taking 10-year-old Jack to school last month when she noticed one of the school’s chimneys was “waving around” in a westerly gale. She reported it to head teacher Jayne Smith, who closed the school, deeming it unsafe.
Workmen finally got into the island on Tuesday and replaced the rusty chimney bracket, enabling the school to re-open. The size of the chimney meant that it could have damaged the roof if it had fallen, or even injured someone.
Since the chimney, which extends 10-feet above the school, came adrift Ms Gear had been educating Jack at home. But neither of them found it satisfactory and would have welcomed more support from the council’s education department.
In response SIC education quality improvement officer Jerry Edwards said that Jack had only actually missed six days of school in Foula – the rest of the time he had been on pre-planned trips off the island.
However, Ms Gear, who breeds Shetland ponies and has several jobs, believes the situation has been unsatisfactory. She said: “Jack’s been working at home but when he’s at home he wants to relax. I’ve been doing maths and English with him, I fitted it in into the evening, I couldn’t do it in the day because I’ve got other jobs.”
One solution would have been to put Jack into Sound School in Lerwick. But Ms Gear said simply: “I can’t leave the island.”
The logistics of Jack commuting to Sound would have been very difficult, she said. Jack would have had to travel with his teacher, [Ms Smith], and accommodation would have had to be found.
Ms Gear said: “It’s a big ask for a teacher, she would have had to look after him and she’s not a parent herself.”
That situation, coupled with the infrequency of flights, meant that the suggestion of Jack attending Sound School was unrealistic, said Ms Gear.
Jack does sometimes go to Sound School – for example, when there is a school trip. He also goes there for a week at a time when his mother is at Lerwick’s pony sale.
Ms Gear said she liked him going to Sound to “get used to a classroom situation and to help with the transition to Anderson High School”. But she did not think he should have to go there for a month while Foula’s school was being repaired.
Ms Gear also said the workmen should have come into the island sooner – having been told it was an emergency. Local men secured the chimney with a rope, but the bracket was corroded and needed to be fixed properly.
But, said Ms Gear, the workmen were reluctant to come to the island unless they could get out the same day.
Meanwhile, Ms Smith has had her own problems in her home, the former manse. She had a flood which shorted the wiring, leaving her with no choice but to leave the island.
A temporary repair was carried out on Tuesday, when the workmen also secured the chimney.