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Foula finds a new teacher…at last

Foula's new head teacher Jayne Smith photographed by five year old pupil Sam Ratter

SCOTLAND’S most remote primary school has finally found a permanent head teacher after six months of trying.

Shetland-born Jayne Smith has returned home to take up her new post on the tiny island of Foula 16 miles out in the north Atlantic.

She moves from Aberdeen’s largest primary at Cults with its 500 pupils to look after the education of three children on an island with just 32 residents.

“In my last school the staffroom was bigger than the classroom here,” she said after her first week teaching on the island.

Smith takes over from Janette Cowie who left her post last autumn after two years on the isle.

Since then Shetland Islands Council has flown in a string of supply teachers to keep the school open while it searched for a permanent replacement.

SIC children’s services director Helen Budge said they had managed to keep the school open for most of the time, though sometimes the weather conditions made it impossible for staff to reach Foula.

“On the other side of that there were times we couldn’t get supply staff out, so some of them stayed there longer than they anticipated,” she said.

Smith said she was excited about her new “adventure”, which had already involved one confrontation with a Shetland pony on the island’s only road.

“It was a question of who was going to win, me in my car or him. Obviously it was the pony,” she said.

After growing up in Scalloway, Smith went to university in Aberdeen to train as a teacher before she was given a year’s probationary position in Happyhansel primary school in Walls, on Shetland’s west side.

“They can place you anywhere in Scotland, you don’t get to choose and then suddenly I was sent back to Shetland. What an experience, I loved it,” she said.

She is equally enthusiastic about her future on the island that lies 20 miles west of Walls out in the wild Atlantic ocean.

“I love it and I feel like I have always lived here, it’s strange how at home I feel. The people have been so helpful, I couldn’t have asked for more support…and the wildlife here is crazy,” she said.

“This is less about the job and more about the environment where you have to appreciate you can get stuck at any time. I still have stuff at Tingwall airport waiting to come over.

“These are things you don’t tend to appreciate until you come here, but I knew there would be weeks without any contact with the mainland, I was under no illusions.”

She added that one of her passions was the Eco School programme, of which Foula is a part with its community wildlife garden and solar panels.

“Here being ‘eco’ is so much part of the children already, because they look after the environment – one of my bairns is just away lambing.”

Local community councillor Jim Gear said islanders were relieved to have a permanent head after six months of supply teachers.

“They tried to have teachers coming in for one or two days and that was very unsatisfactory because with the weather sometimes they couldn’t make it,” he said.

“We made representations and they got teachers in for a little longer, but they were operating on a very ad hoc basis for a considerable time.

“But we are very pleased the new head teacher is in post and she seems to be enjoying it.”

General Election - 12 December 2019