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Education / Big interest in Fair Isle school vacancy – even from people with no teaching qualifications

A preferred candidate for the headteacher role has been picked and is due to move to Fair Isle soon

The Fair Isle airport terminal. Photo: Shetland News

THERE was always going to be a lot of interest in a headteacher vacancy at the UK’s most remote primary school, which only has three pupils.

The recruitment received national – and in some instances international – media coverage, including on the BBC and tabloid The Sun.

The good news is that after a second round of recruitment a preferred candidate has been picked and their family is due to move shortly to the isle, which is located between Shetland and Orkney.

But Shetland Islands Council’s children’s services director Helen Budge said the widespread coverage did not always result in the best candidates coming forward – with some even applying with zero teaching qualifications.

An essential requirement for the post was a relevant degree and recognised teaching qualifications.

Lerwick councillor John Fraser asked whether it would better to have a more targeted approach to recruitment to save admin time.

“I agree absolutely we need to target it, but how do we use social media and the local media to help us do that,” Budge told Monday’s education and families committee.

She said the vacancy being featured in a publication in another country was “perhaps less helpful” than some of the more focused coverage.

Fair Isle’s population has been reported as around 50 recently, and it was only in 2018 that the community was able to access 24/7 electricity.

The job, which came up after long-serving headteacher Ruth Stout left her position, was described as a “tremendous opportunity” to join the community.

Budge said generally there had been a “huge response” to the Fair Isle vacancy due to the press coverage and social media.

However, she also stressed to councillors the importance of “growing your own” staff and recruiting from within.

Recruitment generally for teaching jobs has not been the easiest during the Covid pandemic, with a reduction in the number of applicants.

Budge said this is partly down to people not feeling it is right time to move jobs during the pandemic.

But the headteacher vacancy at Ollaberry Primary School, which was proving particularly difficult, has been filled.

The council is also currently recruiting for relief bank staff for primaries and secondaries – with a warning made at Monday’s meeting over the impact self-isolation is having on schooling in Shetland.

Shetland South councillor Robbie McGregor also questioned what could be done to assist people’s housing needs if they are moving to the isles for teaching jobs.

Budge said there were a number of schoolhouses, mainly in the outer islands, which are maintained.

The hope is for the schoolhouse in Fair Isle to be brought up to scratch before the new headteacher arrives.

Budge also said the council helps probationary staff with finding accommodation.