Dubai to Glasgow, via Disneyland: Stranded staff struggle back to school

23rd April 2010 at 01:00
More than 3,000 Scottish teachers absent at start of new term as volcanic ash cloud wreaks travel chaos

A Glasgow headteacher felt like a refugee after she and her elderly mother found themselves stranded in France on their way back from Dubai.

In common with more than 3,000 Scottish teachers, Linsey Hay, head of Alexandra Parade Primary in Glasgow, was caught up in the travel chaos caused by the cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano, which grounded flights across Europe.

The confusion began last Thursday, the day the pair touched down in Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport on their way home from a holiday in Dubai. After waiting a day for a UK-bound flight, and then spending five hours in a queue, the airline found them a hotel - at Disneyland Paris.

However, after two nights, passengers were bussed back to Charles de Gaulle even though there were no flights. "We just had to find our own way home from there," Ms Hay said.

A series of trains and taxis eventually got them to Calais, where the pair caught a ferry to Dover. From Dover, they travelled to London and then, 48 hours after they set out, home to Scotland. Along the way Ms Hay's mother lost her suitcase containing her heart medication, adding another layer of complication.

The journey would have been worse without the advice of Alexandra Parade Primary depute head Val McCafferty, said Ms Hay.

"She got back from France on Saturday after travelling for 42 hours, so she was able to text advice," she explained.

As it happens, Ms Hay missed just one day of work and was back at her desk on Tuesday.

A TESS survey has revealed that 3,421 stranded teachers in 22 authorities were unable to return to work for the start of the new term this week.

In Fife, 215 teachers were unable to get to work. Some were stranded abroad on school trips. Seven senior pupils and two teachers from Dunfermline High were stuck following an exchange trip to Hamburg. And a party of four pupils and two members of staff from Balwearie High were unable to return from Italy. Both parties are now back on Scottish soil.

In East Renfrewshire, 132 teachers - more than 10 per cent of all staff - were not in school at the beginning of this week. The worst hit was St Ninian's High, with 23 staff off.

Craigmount High in Edinburgh was coping but had 15 staff stranded overseas, headteacher John Campbell said. The principal teacher of biology was stuck between Istanbul and Bucharest. He was trying to make his way to Brussels. Others, meanwhile, were stuck everywhere from Dubai to Australia.

On Tuesday, the school sent S5 and S6 pupils home, but from Wednesday this was restricted to those in early secondary, said Dr Campbell. "We are preserving classes for youngsters who will be presented for exams," he added.

The exam diet gets underway next Wednesday, although some practicals began on Monday. The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) reassured schools and pupils that no candidate affected by flying restrictions would be disadvantaged.

In a letter to Scottish headteachers, Education Secretary Michael Russell wrote: "SQA has contingency plans in place to support the delivery of all qualifications and is monitoring the situation closely."

However, with restrictions on British airspace easing by mid-week, Dr Campbell was optimistic that all would be well.

"It will be ok if we get people back," he said of the exams.

Some schools have benefited from the travel chaos. An HMIE inspection at Carronshore Primary in Falkirk, due to start this week, was put on hold. It was one of two inspections to be delayed.

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