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Some Orkney pupils told to stay home as Kirkwall Grammar School struggles for staff

Lack of supply staff coupled with staff being off long and short-term has created "perfect storm".

Orkney schools
Kirkwall Grammar School. Image: Andrew Stewart / DC Thomson

Third-year pupils at Orkney’s biggest school missed a day of classes amid a “perfect storm” of staffing issues.

Kirkwall Grammar School was hit by a lack of available supply staff coupled with both long and short-term sickness.

S3 pupils and their parents were informed yesterday at lunchtime the day before about Thursday’s situation.

Earlier in the week, they had been informed by an alert via text call that there was a general problem.

The council’s head of education, Peter Diamond, said the staffing situation had reached the point where they “felt they had no choice” but to take such action.

The S3 pupils aren’t being provided with live teaching for the day, but have been assigned work to do.

The pupils are due back in on Friday, which is a shorter day at the school.

But Mr Diamond said they can’t rule out the same thing happening again this winter.

An unscheduled day off

He also said it could happen at other schools.

He said: “A lot of problems hit Kirkwall Grammar School today.

“It’s a challenge that we’re facing across more than Kirkwall Grammar School. It’s a challenge across all of our schools and nurseries and it’s around availability of supply staff.

“We know we’ve got a bit of a workforce challenge and it feels like it’s getting more acute.

“It’s almost like a perfect storm where various things have happened at the KGS within the same week.

“We reached a point where we felt we had no choice.

“We thought really hard about how to avoid making this decision and all the various options.

“Thinking about how you could reorganise the school.

“Could we borrow people from elsewhere?

“Whichever decision we made, it was going to disrupt learning and disrupt families.

“So we were thinking, is there such thing as a minimum impact or minimum worst-case scenario?

“Hopefully this is a bit of a one-off.

“By focussing on S3 we’re hoping that it will give families more options.

“There will be a number of the S3 pupils where their families will be reasonably content that those young people can do half a day, or a full day, on their own at home.

“We’re trying to avoid the certificate classes – S4, 5, and 6 – and trying to minimise disruption to those classes this year.

“But there were no good choices.

Could it happen again?

“It could have happened anywhere. We don’t have a particularly large supply pool in Orkney.

“That’s always more acute in secondary as you need subject specialists.

“We’re covering a number of unfilled vacancies, so that takes up a few. Sadly we have staff that are off long-term sick and that takes up a few more.

“And we’ve just had this wee spike in seasonal illness – coughs, colds, and things like that.

“That’s just pushed things over the edge and left us with no more supply people to bring in, no more internal reorganisation possible.

“We don’t have enough adults in the school to keep things going normally in a safe environment.”

Mr Diamond is hoping this will be a “blip”. But he said there will still be worries going forward.

He said the education department is conscious of running into further difficulties at KGS or elsewhere, particularly as this is only the start of winter.

Mr Diamond said: ” We don’t want this to happen and we will work as hard we can to avoid it happening.

“But it’s only fair to say to the whole community that we may be faced with similar challenges over the winter period.

“This is something we’ve choose to do as a last resort. It is not something we do lightly.

Mr Diamond has worked in education in Orkney for 27 years.

He said, other than during the arrangements made for covid, he can’t remember a time where a situation like the one that occurred today has taken place before.