The boy with four teachers and a school to himself
Sunday 23 June 1996
It costs pounds 54,000 a year - four times the annual fees of Eton and 27 times the cost of educating a normal state primary pupil - to teach nine-year- old Kevin Pepper. In a week's time councillors on the Orkney islands are expected to vote to close his island school, on the grounds that it is bad for the boy, and send him by ferry to another island for schooling.
Kevin is the only pupil at his school on the island of Graemsay (population 29) and he is outnumbered four-to-one by the full and part-time staff. Attending to his educational needs are headteacher Irene Mathieson, a relief teacher who is ferried to the island on average once a week, two auxiliaries, who each work three hours a week - one for administrative tasks and the other to operate the computer, and a caretaker. Kevin and his teacher are also ferried to another island once a week for music, art and physical education classes.
Despite the costs, the inhabitants of the island are all opposed to the closure of the school, which was opened 120 years ago and once boasted a roll of 60 pupils. They fear it will mean that no new young families will be attracted to the island. Educationalists, however, believe the school should go because Kevin needs the company of other children.
Graemsay may just be the latest rural primary school to face closure, but in the Scottish islands, closures create far more problems than on the mainland. For Kevin it will mean that he has to commute by ferry toOrkney every day to attend Stromness School.
"We don't want the school to close and we certainly don't want Kevin to have to commute on the ferry. It is a 20-minute trip each way across the sea in all sorts of weathers. We had a close look at the ferry tonight and we are unsure about Kevin using it," said his mother, Michelle Mowt.
Leslie Manson, who is in charge of primary education on Orkney, says that the prime concern of the council has been Kevin's welfare rather than the cost of educating him.
"We believe that for a boy of this age, his needs are not being met by going to school on his own. It is expensive and there have been jokes about there being more teachers than pupils. But the educational arguments I believe are fundamental and the argument about cost effectiveness are significant but supportive.
"I wrote to all the inhabitants and called meetings and one of the main concerns was the extent to which closure might make the island a less attractive place."
Headteacher Mrs Mathieson, who moved to the island 11 years ago when there were three pupils, said, "It is a great pity that it has to close. I accept Kevin needs company, but if we could avoid closure everybodywould be happier. We feel there will be no incentive to bring families on to the island. The school is the centre of island life."
Kevin himself wants the school to stay. "I don't see why they have to close it. I like it a lot and I don't want to have to go on the ferry every day. I have my three-year-old brother Andrew to play with and I'm just fine."
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