I wake up at 7am and come wind, rain or sun, I walk to Papay Westray School. Today, it’s wind and rain.
I am the acting headteacher and have been here for three years. My first task is to feed the hens, ducks and sheep. The pupils usually do it when they arrive, but not in this weather.
The Care Commission is coming to inspect the nursery at some point; it should be a surprise visit but we were phoned on Friday to see if we’re here all week, so it was a bit of a giveaway. It’s hard to sneak up on our primary school when it’s a 28-mile ferry trip or flight from Kirkwall (Orkney’s capital).
Our pupils arrive in a minibus at 8.50am – all very windswept – and the bus driver says the secondary school boat to Westray has been cancelled. The children are pleased they don’t have to go out to feed the animals, so instead we watch the ducks do their low-slung high-wind waddle.
As we make our way through to the hall for circuit training, the nursery inspector arrives. She’s looking very smart – not dressed for the gale. Our nursery child appears at the same time, so he’s off with his teacher, while the inspector goes for a sit down and a coffee to recover from being thrown around for 15 minutes on a wild flight in a tiny plane.
Monday’s routine continues: mental maths, maths games, sentences and spelling. There are five pupils (not including the four-year-old in the nursery, who is outnumbered by adults in there today), ranging from age 7 to 11. The biggest challenge is making sure they work together, but each at their own level.
One of the island’s secondary school pupils turns up. With her and the inspector, that’s a 25 per cent increase from the usual number for lunch, but our prize-winning cook nips to the island shop to get food for the two extras.
At playtime, the children are in the hall again. If it was just raining, they’d be told to get their waterproofs on, but not in this wind. They are all enjoying themselves, including our four-year-old, who is highly excited at a visitor paying him attention.
The rest of the morning goes well and at lunch the adults and pupils sit together at the table, a bit like a family. There’s always lots of conversation and the inspector joins in. There’s no time for a quiet coffee afterwards, as she needs to interview me.
After tooth-brushing, the children return to the classroom. The secondary school pupil takes a break from her work and helps me listen to the younger students reading. One of the many special things about Papa Westray is that the children, regardless of age, all join in. They love having a big sister in, helping.
Then we dive into our project: “Earth, the active planet”. Research has started in pairs; books and iPads are referred to and diagrams are drawn. The playdough is out and the layers of the earth are built up.
At 2.45pm, the inspector leaves and I get a much-needed moment to nip to the toilet and refill with coffee, while the secretary becomes classroom assistant. The day ends with reading Harry Potter and we discuss what the inspector might have thought of us. Any inspection is scary, but we’re looking forward to our feedback. Surely it will be good – we’re very proud of our nursery.
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