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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Back to school.....

No....not for me but for the island school children!  There are two young boys who have started school for the first time this August. (The Scottish terms are different to the English school terms). The children  join three others from the island who go to the primary school and teenager J. who attends the secondary school in Stromness. All of whom go over on the ferry each day.

The ferry schedule is designed so that they have a fairly short journey time of 15 minutes on the boat each way. Though obviously there are times in the winter when the boat is cancelled. I'm sure many of them are praying for a stormy winter so they get more days off school!

There used to be a school on Graemsay - see the picture above. This was a one classroom school with cloakroom and toilet, and playground. It was a primary school (up to age 11), the children would go over to the Mainland for their secondary level education where they would stay during the week and come back to the island at the weekend.

Then in 1996 the island got a daily ferry service with the MV Graemsay. Previously the ferry had not run daily during the week.  So it was now possible for the school children to travel back and forth to Stromness each day.

With just one pupil remaining on the school roll and probably for economics and "inclusiveness" reasons,  the local education authority decided to close the school. Shops, schools and churches make small communities, and the island was very upset at the proposed closure. However, despite valiant efforts by the island folk to keep it open, the decision was made and the school closed.  Irene Mathieson was the teacher at the time having moved up here some years before from just outside Glasgow. She loved Graemsay so much she decided to stay and she and her husband Bobby still live on Graemsay.  Irene has lots of stories and many happy memories from her time as the island teacher.

As for the rest of Orkney - most of the isles have primary schools, and some secondary level education up to age 14. Then the children go to either Stromness or Kirkwall schools for the remaining time. Some of the children from the North isles still have to stay in a hostel during the week.  Again with a recession and falling school rolls small communities around the county are fighting to keep their schools. It's not an easy battle.

But for the Graemsay children, it's a daily "commute" to and from Stromness via boat. Which might seem a bit daunting (and in bad weather it IS!). Up to the age of 12 the children get a "minder" supplied by the council, who gets them on and off the boat and sits with them during the journey.  There are also a number of children from the neighbouring island of Hoy who are also going over to secondary school each day.  So the boat can be quite lively in term time!


  1. I think some of our young ones would prefer going to school on a boat, rather than taking an hour long bus ride. A lot of our smaller schools have had to close because of dwindling numbers. The school buildings get bigger, and the children travel farther. My granddaughters were lucky enough to go to a small village school, (a ten minute car drive,) but close to 45 mins on the bus until gr. 6. It is a wonderful school and the girls got an excellent start.

  2. Very interesting post ! my son go back to school on the 5th of september!

  3. i enjoyed my trip on the Graemsay school 'bus', Sian. :-) Sadly the closure of small schools is happening everywhere. In Mid-Wales any primary school with fewer than 40 pupils is potentially at risk of closure and here in rural Normandy the local junior high school closed the year before last, with the children at the far end of the school bus run now having a journey each way of more than an hour.

  4. Thanks for posting. My great great grandfather (William Tait) lived and worked in this school house circa 1880 before returning to Orphir to teach in Kirbister school. I may visit Graemsay this summer 2017

  5. Thanks for posting. This is the very school that my great great grandfather William Tait lived and worked at. In the 1880s he had three of his own kids as pupils! I may visit Gramesay in Aug 2017

    1. Hi Robin, loved hearing about your great great grandfather teaching at the school. Do get in touch if you are coming to Graemsay this year.