Rural idyllic dreams

25 April 2009 · 0 comments

in General Commentary

Earlier this week Melvich Primary, a tiny school in the far north of Scotland hit the headlines by uploading a video on Youtube to advertise for a head teacher. The post has been vacant since January and understandably the community really want a decent teacher there asap.

Very rural schools are interesting places to work. It’s easy to make assumptions about rural idyllic schools but the reality is very different. To begin with the children can often have quite an indoor lifestyle. They have Sky TV (owing to poor reception otherwise) and all the latest gadgets and gizmos ordered via EBay or other internet sites.

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” is a useful phrase and often apt. However sometimes one can literally be blown away by the wind or completely midged out even with midge nets and being covered up from head to toe. Shelter and citronella oil are two imperatives in playgrounds in these places! Otherwise indoor breaks become the norm rather than the exception.

Another matter is the community. In Peru, there is a proverb which states “Little village, big inferno”. Everyone is important in a wee community and every event, no matter how minor can become a Big Deal. Like it or not, a teacher in a little village is The Teacher 24/7. The community becomes the School Gate Gang even if they’re not right outside the school.

Yet small schools in isolated places have an unparallel amount of freedom. Children can have a very effective say in how the school is run, what projects to study and trips to make. The community and local environment play a vital part in the educational experiences. At one school in which I taught, one parent taught the children how to bowl, another did Highland dancing. The administrator took the children down to the river to gather clay which was baked into pots in her kiln. Another person helped the children gather wool and dye it using locally gathered bog myrtle. We celebrated Halloween in style with guising, surprise quests and a party in the village hall. We panned for gold and garnets in the local stream and went on rock specimen hunts. All-in-all it was the Curriculum for Excellence in a nutshell.

So I wish Melvich School every success in finding a fabulous teacher who understands the opportunities presented in the far north and won’t freak out that the nearest Marks & Spencers is a four-hour drive away in Inverness. Long may the school ring with the sound of those children’s laughter.

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