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‘Come for the bairns!’: Island school needs new head teacher

Pupil Louis has a simple answer for what he loves about his school: 'Everything!'
Pupil Louis has a simple answer for what he loves about his school: 'Everything!'

One of Orkney’s most northerly schools is on the hunt for a head teacher, after years with a temporary arrangement.

Westray Junior High School is home to 87 pupils aged three to 16, on an island with a population of just under 600. It’s the most northerly secondary school in Orkney, with only nearby Papa Westray and the more remote North Ronaldsay primaries further afield.

The school has had an acting head teacher since August 2021, and the current posting marks the fifth time the job has been advertised.

Even though a move to a small island village likely represents a dramatic change of pace for many applicants, staff and students on Westray feel their school has plenty to offer.

When, for example, Rosalind Rendall left the central belt to teach at Westray School, she only expected to stay a few years. But that was in 2009.

Roots can grow fast and firm

Now, over 13 years later, she is helping to spearhead the recruitment campaign for a new leader at the school which she said felt like a home from day one.

“From the start, the sense of community and of belonging was felt. There is a respect for teachers on Westray that is maybe missing in larger communities. The teachers also respect the pupils, and this makes for a lovely learning environment.”

Rosalind transitioned smoothly into island life. Her job at the school, located at the heart of Pierowall village on Westray, put her at the centre of the community and she married a local man and started a family.

But Orkney Islands Council has highlighted plenty of other advantages for a head teacher’s new life on Westray. The island packs a lot into its 18 square miles: a nine-hole golf course; shopping and art galleries; a hotel and bistro; cafe and chip shop; GP surgery; and play parks for the kids.

You can also take to the skies on the shortest commercial flight in the world, less than two minutes between Westray and Papa Westray.

Puffin watches at the scenic cliffs are just one of the outdoor learning activities on offer on Westray. Supplied by Orkney Islands Council

And, of course, don’t forget the native puffin colonies.

Rosalind said that the community’s relative isolation leaves it susceptible to weather. That means transportation disruptions and other last-minute variables.

Obstacles or opportunities?

Life at the school isn’t immune, particularly for students and staff who commute from Papa Westray.

“Every day brings something new,” she said. “We are reliant on itinerant teachers, especially for a lot of our expressive arts subjects. Sometimes the plane does not come, class cover is required, and all of a sudden you find yourself teaching music, or PE, or geography.”

The scenic view from the ‘school bus’ that carries students from nearby Papa Westray to the island of Westray every morning. Supplied by Don Hawkins

All that might sound like a warning to potential applicants, but she sees it as the exact opposite.

“I see this is a positive – for it means you are always learning as a teacher at the Westray School and it has definitely helped me to hone my solution-oriented approach to challenges, allowing me to evolve as a person, and as a practitioner.”

Because many of the students from Westray go on to finish high school at Kirkwall Grammar School in Kirkwall, or continue their studies at Orkney College UHI, Rosalind has found opportunities to collaborate with colleagues all across the islands.

Westray head teacher: A lifelong connection

It means that a head teacher can build lifelong relationships with pupils, following them all the way from nursery to higher education. Recognising this responsibility is critical for a leader, she said.

“We want a head teacher to continue to inspire and lead our school community. Of course, there are also challenges with this role, but these can also be its strengths.

Teacher Rosalind Rendall and her son, Louis. Supplied by Orkney Islands Council

“A head teacher is responsible for the management of all departments, from early years to secondary and transition to positive future destinations for young people at the end of S4.”

Gina Rendall knows all about how teachers can impact pupils across their entire school careers. As the early years lead practitioner at Westray, she has spent more than a decade watching young islanders find their feet. For her, there’s no question of the school’s best selling point.

“Come for the bairns! They are fantastic youngsters who deserve the best school experience from Early Years right through to 4th year. You get to see their journey and be part of it. That’s the real privilege we have in a Junior High School in a small community.”

Learn more

You can learn more about the island and its neighbour, Papa Westray, by visiting the islands’ official website.

For full details on the Westray head teacher position, which offers a salary of £66,606 per year, contact service manager Jane Partridge at

The application window will close on Sunday, August 21.

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