Case Study 33, November 2002

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Including the Potentially Excluded and
Overcoming Barriers to Participation

This is the second Case Study of five during the 2002-03 session.Scotland is fortunate in still having many small, rural and island schools. The Primary School of Scotland's most remote inhabited island, Fair Isle, focuses on how it has overcome barriers to participation and avoided the potential exclusion that isolation could have brought about. This is critical to the pupils' development and ability to cope with the wider world beyond Fair Isle's shores, but it is clear that the small island community is in itself a rich resource for learning. This report touches on the other SSEN themes for this year's Case Studies as well, and shows us that being a small supportive community is not a total protection against problems. Equally, it demonstrates that being remote is not a barrier to communities and their schools being alive to current issues and being very active in addressing them. Readers not familiar with Shetland vernacular may like to consult the glossary by clicking on the arrow Click to read the glossary!

This Case Study was published by the Scottish Schools Ethos Network.

Contact for this Case Study
Fair Isle Primary School
Headteacher - Jessie McCaffrey
Fair Isle
Shetland ZE2 9JU
Telephone: 01595 760 254
Fax: 01595 760 236


Fair Isle is the most remote inhabited island in Scotland (see map), half way between Orkney and Shetland, surrounded by seas with currents and swells that command great respect. The Primary School is a one teacher full-time Primary School with an attached Nursery Class, taught three mornings a week by another teacher. The school has a part-time secretary who also works as the classroom assistant for ten hours a week and offers PE instruction for one and a half hours. We have a few hours a week of valuable in-put on computers and music from two other enthusiastic islanders. A third teacher is employed for seven hours of learning support and for provision of cover when necessary. We have a lunch supervisor who shares the school cleaning with another islander and school meals for all the bairns are cooked by the Head Teacher's husband - a retired physics teacher.

The island, owned by the National Trust and committed to an ecologically sustainable way of life, is approximately three miles by one and a half miles. It is a wonderful teaching resource in itself for our pupils (See Picture A) There are about seventy islanders living in traditional crofts on the southern more fertile third of the island, the remaining land being rough grazing and rocky moorland. Fair Isle knitting, stained glass and silver jewellery, traditional straw-backed chairs and spinning wheels, yole boats and hand-made soaps are all produced. Among our talented islanders are painters and writers. There are pioneering projects in wildlife tourism, sustainable management of the environment and the use of wind power with two windmills. There is a world famous bird observatory, which attracts 'Twitchers' from all over the world to see the rare migrant birds and the sea bird colonies. Up to twelve cruise ships call at the island in the summer - weather permitting!

Weather plays a very big part in the life of the island because gale force - or stronger - winds can mean that the ferry, Good Shepherd, does not sail and fog or cross winds mean that the seven-seater Loganair Islander plane does not fly. Our children must be brought to school by parents in bad weather: being blown away is a real risk for our bairns! In winter, mail and provisions for the island shop come only once a week on the boat - weather permitting - and the convenient but expensive plane is timetabled for three times weekly flights.

This session there are 12 pupils - six boys and six girls - in the primary school, aged between five years and eleven years and four children - one girl and three boys - in the nursery. One child in nursery has special educational needs and has a deferred school entry. He has severe language difficulties.

Developing a positive ethos

We knew - or believed - that our ethos was good - how could it not be in such a community? The community includes the school bairns in any planned island activities and the school performs a Christmas pantomime and a concert each June. Every child takes part and everyone on the island is welcome to attend. In school we have The Golden Rules and Circle Time. The school prioritises giving choices, enabling children to make decisions, being open to negotiation and recognising and valuing diversity. We work together well and can afford to be just a wee bit informal sometimes. For example, the pupils loved it when the Head Teacher gave the parents homework for a change: 'Please can you write a poem on the theme Celebrations for National Poetry Day? Your child can help you'. Not every school could get away with that but all the parents rose to the challenge and we got back excellent poems and positive feedback too: 'We had good fun writing our poem, didn't we, Emma? And daddy helped too'.

We had been given Learning Support time for a teacher to work with two children with Individualised Educational Programs in class, and now also with the bairn in the nursery, so we were confident that we had the time and the will to ensure that learning and social needs were being met. We try to link together as much as we can to promote a feeling of all belonging in school. Since the nursery is in the connecting classroom the wee bairns often walk through the primary classroom. They bake things like crispy cakes then come through to offer them round the primary classroom. Younger primary children join the nursery bairns for dancing in the hall every week. We shared a Hallowe'en party.

We even had a recent good HMI report in 2001 that said, 'We judged the following to be very good: The school's ethos, etc, etc'. Then our belief was to be shattered. With hindsight, we had been rather complacent about our ethos.



Location of Fair Isle
Fair Isle - the most remote inhabited island in Scotland
Picture A: The island itself is a wonderful natural resource for our pupils.
Picture B: Our pupils with a German visitor from a cruise ship.

Click to download Fair Isle Primary Report

Click the HM Inspectorate of Education logo above to download a copy of the Fair Isle Primary School inspection report. This report is in .pdf format.
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