Most remote school looks for headteacher

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The Independent Online

With a pupil-teacher ratio of three-to-one, an impeccable discipline record and some of the most lavish learning resources in the country, on the face of it few pedagogues in their right mind would pass over the opportunity to work at Foula Primary School.

The drawback, and of course there is one, is that the post of headteacher currently being advertised there could involve weeks trapped on the most northerly, fogbound and windswept island in Britain with only a handful of locals and the resident birdlife for company.

To sweeten the pill, the job with Shetland Islands Council comes with a 41,742-a-year salary, plus a 2,000 remoteness allowance, a relocation package and a house. The current, part-time head, Fred Hibbert, who is stepping down when the role is merged with that of classroom teacher, said the successful candidate would have to be self reliant.

"You are a long way away from help and some of the things you take for granted in a more usual setting you cannot take for granted here," he said. There is no public transport, except off the island, while a punctured tyre can take three weeks to fix if the ferries are not working which is often the case during the wild winters. The absence of a local shop means the weekly groceries have to be shipped or air-freighted in.

This year's school roll is made up of just two boys, aged 10 and three, while a third, their three-year-old brother, will be joining them in August next year. Pupils are taught at Foula until the age of 12, when they go to board at Lerwick.

After that it will be up to the present island population of 22 to produce more children for the school, though there is the possibility that the successful candidate could help swell the register. A previous headteacher boosted the roll by 300 per cent when she enrolled her three young boys after landing the job in 1990.

But it is not all isolation and howling Atlantic gales, according to Mr Hibbert, though keeping the children motivated without the peer pressures of a larger class remains a constant challenge. "The good things are that you don't have to deal with issues such as bullying or disruptive pupils, and they are really wonderful students," he said.

Foula, measuring just nine square-miles and lying 20 miles across the sea from the main Shetland settlements, prides itself on being Britain's most remote, permanently inhabited island. It provided the backdrop to Michael Powell's 1937 dramatisation of the evacuation of St Kilda, The Edge of the World, after he was denied permission to film there. It shares the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska, and boasts its own brand of Shetland-English, tinged with Norse.

In addition to the wild Atlantic scenery it is famous for shipwrecks because of the submerged reefs that surround its shores Foula offers some fine birdwatching opportunities and is something of a mecca among twitchers for its rare migrating birds and the many species that turn its cliffs into one of the most breathtaking wildlife spectacles in Europe. The word Foula translates from Norse as Bird island.

The school is also looking for an assistant and a lunchtime supervisor.

The island of Foula

* Foula prides itself on being the most remote permanently inhabited island in Britain, and has a population of just 22

* The Romans knew it as Ultima Thule, while the Norse called it Fugloy, or 'bird island'. It was one of the last places where Norn was spoken as a first language

* Foula defied the rest of Britain in 1752 by refusing to adopt the Gregorian calendar and retaining the Julian system

* It is a birdwatchers' paradise and has the highest sheer cliffs in Britain, some 1,200ft tall, where Arctic terns, red-throated divers and great skuas live in vast numbers

* The main industries are sheep farming and ornithological tourism. The island, like many others in Shetland, was famous for the prowess of its peat-cutters