When residents of the remote Highland village of Scoraig advertised for a teacher on Facebook, it was more out of desperation than hope.
Two council attempts to hire a teacher for the tiny crofting settlement of 70 people, on the shore of Little Loch Broom in north-west Scotland, had failed, as applicants questioned why they would need to catch a boat to the interview. So the five primary school-aged children were left relying on a string of supply teachers.
Like everything else coming to Scoraig, they had to come by boat across the loch, or endure a five-mile hike to the nearest road.
“Very quickly after our last temporary teacher left we found out exactly how hard it would be to find a well qualified teacher willing to move here,” said Zoe Fothergill, the Scoraig Teacher Group administrator who posted the Facebook advert two weeks ago. “To live here is a lifestyle choice, and it isn’t for everyone. It’s a problem all remote Highland communities face and in our case we are almost an island, we are that cut off.”
On a sunny day in summer that lifestyle is glorious with low crofting rents, stunning views, wind-turbine electricity and pretty market gardens full of fresh vegetables.
However when The Independent hiked in it was raining hard and locals admit that, once the weather turns, “folk need to be hardy” to tough it out and endure (or enjoy) the isolation.
For example, the area’s mobile phone signal had just come back after a week-long interruption. Bad weather can practically cut the area off from the “mainland” for days in winter.
But that hasn’t stopped Ms Fothergill’s Facebook plea attracting interest from as far away as India and Canada. “It’s been crazy, we never expected so much interest,” she said. Her baby, due in March, will add to half a dozen toddlers and babies expected to join the school in the next five years. “The hope is that among the 50 or so leading applicants we will find the right person.”
John Sangster, chairman of Scoraig’s parents’ group who has lived here for 19 years and has a seven-year-old son, says the village faces oblivion if the school isn’t properly staffed.
“If we lose the school, we will lose, eventually, our entire community,” he said. “We don’t have a pub or a shop or anything else and we need the school to attract young families. Without that the community will grow old, wither and eventually die.”
The population of Scoraig has increased in recent years and locals are hopeful for the future, but elsewhere in the Highlands dozens of other schools are struggling.
Six councils are set to hold a summit next month over a “crippling” shortage of teachers. Solutions put forward include higher salaries and more training places at the University of the Highlands.
However one Highlands teacher, who did not want to be named, said the situation was so bad that in some cases secondary school teachers without the correct qualifications were being placed under pressure to teach primary school groups.
And it’s not just the schools. Earlier this month a review of the NHS Highland’s performance heard public fears that care in the far north was on the “brink of meltdown”, with a lack of GPs and specialist consultants in Caithness and Sutherland.
At Scoraig the new teacher will receive an additional allowance for the remote location but also benefit from an incredibly close community, said Ms Fothergill. “You pretty much know everyone here. There are a few recluses but we all socialise [and] have parties at the boat house.”
The school building dates from the 1800s when a thriving community of crofters lived here, but with one child off sick, only four were playing inside to avoid the rain. “The dream for locals would be a teacher with a young family,” said Eleanor Kenedy, acting head of the cluster of schools that covers Scoraig. “Thankfully we have had some excellent candidates.”Reuse content