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Islanders fight to save school with one pupil

People living on the most remote island in the Orkneys said yesterday they would fight plans to close its school - even though it has only one pupil.

Orkney Islands Council wants to axe Graemsay primary as part of a cost- cutting programme. It costs pounds 45,000 a year. Islanders say the decision would destroy the community.

Councillors meet today to decide whether to grant a reprieve. Kevin Pepper, aged nine, has been attending the school, staffed by one teacher, for four years. He wants to continue his studies. Councillors say a new five-day-a-week ferry service, to be introduced later this year, means he can commute to a school at Stromness on the Orkney mainland.

The boy's family, who do not want him to use the ferry, oppose the plan. Michelle Mowat, 32, Kevin's mother, said: "I don't want Kevin to have to go to and from school by boat every day, crossing the Scapa Flow in what can often be horrendous conditions. It's awful."

Kevin's sister, Helen, 12, who goes to school in Stromness, travels from Graemsay on Monday mornings and returns on Friday afternoons. "She finds it hard travelling just twice a week and often feels very seasick," Mrs Mowat said. "So imagine what it would be like for a nine-year-old travelling by boat twice a day."

Kevin has been receiving lessons alone since September, when two classmates started secondary education in Stromness. "I do get lonely at times, especially at playtime," he said.

"I'd love to have a friend to play with. I want to stay here. If the school shuts, the island will be destroyed."

Ann Sutherland, the island's councillor, said she was "desperately worried" about the knock-on effect of closure. "It would kill the island," she said. "What Graemsay needs is new blood. But there will be no hope of attracting new families if there is no school for their children to go to."

Graemsay is one of only two single-pupil primaries in Scotland. The other is at Loch Choire, in Sutherland.