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A visit to the wonderful Skeld Primary School, in Shetland

I am back up in Shetland again, to run a wildlife tour with Hugh Harrop of Shetland Wildlife. I have come up a few days early to spend some time with friends, Paula and Magnus, and to make the most of their hospitality!

One of Paula’s friends, Helen, is the sole teacher at a primary school in Skeld… on a little peninsula on the west of the island. The class consists of just 14 children…. that’s the whole school! Just one class with all different ages. It couldn’t be further from Michael Drayton, the school I teach in! The school is surrounded by huge skies, a dramatic coastline and huge expanses of sea. Many of the children have not left Shetland and this wonderful landscape is part of their daily lives.

Paula had arranged with Helen for me to come and visit the school, talk to the children and then do an activity. I suggested we made a pallet bug hotel and the children had brought in lots of materials.

I was very warmly welcomed into the school and the classroom! The children were really interested in my videos of all the wildlife I film and had lots of questions.

I told them about the school I teach in and how different it is to their school. They could not believe that there are children who live in the Midlands who have never seen the sea! Shetland has approximately 900 miles of indented coastline consisting partly of exposed cliffs and shores bordering both the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. No part of Shetland is more than 5 km from the coast; the sea and the coastline are central to life in Shetland. It is difficult for these children to imagine life without the sea in view!

The class were keen to show me around their school and its grounds. Exposed and windswept, the playgrounds and field area have enviable views! They led me all around, keen to show me all the plants and areas the they had developed, including their bird feeding station!

They showed me their great adventure playground and we all had to have a go…. of course!

When we got to the end, they said their favourite thing, on the spring bench, was to have lots of people on it and to lean back as far as you can go… so, of course, we had to do that too! There were lots of laughs and enthusiasm!

We looked at how dandelion clock seeds travel in the wind…

… and learnt about ‘cuckoo spit’, what it is and how to find the leaf hopper inside….

After touring around the school, we decided on the best place for our bug hotel and we heaved the pallets up. Filling it with all the materials the children had brought and more we collected, it soon took shape and they were very proud of their creation! The children were so enthusiastic and interested in the task and they were a pleasure to work with …

A brief return to the classroom and an amazing impromptu class hug, it was time for their dinner and time for Paula and I to leave.

Sadly I had to drag myself away…. I could really imagine teaching somewhere like this. A school such as this embodies all that I believe education should be. These children loved learning… their teacher had the chance to inspire and enthuse based on the pupils’ interests and passions. Having only that many pupils, despite them being varied ages, means that there is time to spend with them as individuals. The increasing demands on today’s teachers, lack of funding and bureaucratic tethers tightening mean that often we forget that these are children; children who should love learning, be free to learn in a range of different ways and not sat at tables all day and teachers should have the freedom to teach in the way that best suits their passions and their pupils’ needs. This school embodied all of this and I envied Helen her job in this stunning location!

Thank you SO much for letting me share a morning with you, Sheld Primary! I absolutely loved it and will come and see you again next time I come to Shetland and, if that pond is not finished, I’ll bring a spade!


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