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Education / Rare chance to become head teacher of school with just four primary bairns

The council is looking to fill a vacancy for the Foula head teacher post

Foula. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

A “ONCE in a lifetime opportunity” has come up to become the head teacher for a remote Shetland island school – which only has four primary pupils.

The job at Foula Primary School comes with a salary of £61,374 per annum.

Foula lies around 16 miles off the west of the Shetland mainland and the job advert says the island offers a “slower pace of life”.

It has a permanent population of just 28 people, and spans an area of around five square miles.

To get there you have to either take the ferry from Walls in Shetland’s west mainland, which takes around two hours, or a flight from Tingwall, which is much quicker at 15 minutes.

The island is known for its dramatic landscapes and birdlife, and it plays host to the second highest sea cliff in the UK, which reaches more than 1,200 feet.

But unlike some other Shetland islands it does not have a shop.

Shetland Islands Council said in its job advert that Foula is a “welcoming community where you can create an idyllic island home”.

It is the second time in a few years that the vacancy has been advertised; the previous postholder Beverley McPherson, who was appointed in 2019, is retiring.

Leona Gear, who grew up in Foula, said the school is “essential because the community needs families to survive and grow”.

“We already go to the hostel [in Lerwick] at 12 and only get home one weekend a month, we couldn’t do the same thing to primary children.

Photo © Julian Paren (cc-by-sa/2.0)

“It is also a great opportunity for someone to take on the headteacher role and live and work in a beautiful place unlike anywhere else.”

The Foula Heritage group meanwhile said on social media that the post is a “wonderful opportunity to live and work in a spectacular island and be part of a vibrant, creative and independent, caring crofting community”.

The successful applicant will also be offered a three-bedroom rented house.

Foula Primary School serves pupils from early years through to primary seven.

While there are four pupils on the primary roll, there is also one child in the nursery.

The school is managed by a teaching head teacher, who is also the early learning and childcare manager.

The head teacher is supported by an early learning practitioner, an art and IT instructor as well as a school administrator, through a variety of part-time hours.

The Foula school was built in 1992 and comes complete with a solar panel array as well as a polytunnel which is also available for the community.

The council said that as well as the relevant qualifications and registration experience, the “qualities we are looking for in the successful candidate are: a can-do attitude, vision, energy, initiative, good communication skills and self-discipline”.

It is also offering a relocation package as well as interview expenses from within the UK.

It comes after the council recruited a head teacher last year for the primary school on the remote Fair Isle, which lies between Shetland and Orkney.

That position attracted worldwide interest with many applications from outwith the UK.

Chairman of the council’s education and families committee Davie Sandison said it was important for vacancies at remote schools to secure healthy levels of interest.

“Like any posting in Shetland for a head teacher in some of our remote schools, it’s a unique opportunity and it must be a really attractive opportunity for the right candidate,” he said.

Promote Shetland’s head of content marketing Adam Civico said the Foula role is a “job like virtually no other in the UK”.

“It is an exciting opportunity for an ambitious teacher to work and live in one of the most spectacular locations anywhere” he said.

“Where else can you relax after a day’s teaching by marvelling at the Atlantic Ocean, standing at the top of one of the tallest sea cliffs in the country? Foula, like Shetland itself, is a dramatic place with a unique and fascinating history and culture, amazing landscapes, and a vibrant and active community

“Promote Shetland works closely with HR teams at the SIC and NHS Shetland to support recruitment efforts, and our website [Shetland.org] is packed with information for anyone considering a move to the islands.”

Foula meanwhile is also fairly unique in that its residents observe the traditional Julian calendar for festive celebrations.

It means Christmas is celebrated on 6 January, and New Year falls a week later.

Foula also appeared in the 1937 film The Edge of the World, which was about the eviction of St Kilda off the west of Scotland.

But it was only shot in Foula because its makers could not film in St Kilda.