When finding more staff gets tough, the tough go to an employment agency. Angus Macdonald reports
Thurso High may be far-flung but it has proved highly acces-sible this session, with some of the staff hailing from England, South Africa and Canada.
Staff shortages caused by long-term absences and recruitment difficulties from within Scotland forced John Inkster, the headteacher, to turn to the Timeplan teacher employment agency. Two teachers were found in England, Lara Smith, who taught PE, and Bruce Smith, modern studies. Jenny Cannon came from South Africa to teach English, as did Amy Black, from Canada.
Amy is the only one of the "Foreign Legion" recruits still there and confesses to having fallen in love with the northernmost secondary school on the British mainland and, with 968 pupils, the fourth largest Highland Council secondary.
Her first job after graduating from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, was in London, but so persuasive and reassuring was John Inkster that she took the job without even seeing Thurso or, indeed, Scotland.
Amy took to both. "The sky changes colour all the time and I loved that," she says. "I like the place and the people."
Although the school is not the most attractive feature of Thurso, she has found the staff supportive. "I am still a probationer teacher and I want to complete this year and then consider in June if I should stay on for another year. This is my first full-time job and I have a lot of mentors among the staff, and te kids are very polite and keen to learn."
She acknowledges that teachers in Thurso feel as much under pressure as they do everywhere else from curriculum changes and excess paperwork. And, she says, they are not sure how Higher Still will work or relate to what they are doing already. But Amy is upbeat: "For me, this is all new, so I have no preconceptions and I am in with a fresh slate.
"In Canada, students don't have to do folios and it can be a bit of a nightmare here to make sure they are completed. We don't have standardised testing either and to think that students sit the same exam in Glasgow as they do in Thurso is a new idea."
Her approach is to make learning fun for the pupils. "Everyone has to do English, but sometimes we'll read a book and not ask millions of questions about it. If we make it fun, they'll enjoy it and work even harder."
From the school's point of view, John Inkster says the presence of overseas staff broadens the pupils' experience and perspective as well as those of the staff."
Amy has found other attractions in the area. She took part in the Thurso Players' pantomime, Ali Baba and The 40 Thieves - except that they only had seven thieves. "Everyone's down-sizing these days," she says. And she experienced her first Burns Supper and replied to the Toast to the Lassies. But the classroom remains her focus. "The ability to feel that I am making a positive contribution to the students' education has been a wonderful experience," says Amy.