In August 2003, we told the story of Neil Aiken who had swapped his life as a deputy head in a Midlands primary for a new challenge as head of a one-room school on Foula, in the North Sea, 20 miles west of the Shetland mainland. Foula is beautiful - bathed in light in summer, home to rare sea birds and wild flowers - but uncompromising and often rain-lashed. In winter, gale force winds and fog can cut off the islanders for weeks. When we met him, Neil Aiken had lost two stone and learned to fish, make bread and keep a peat stove burning. He had got to know the island's inhabitants, all 29 of them, and was waiting for his wife and daughters to join him at the school, where he was the 30th headteacher in 125 years.
Despite having just three pupils, Neil Aiken brought all his professionalism to bear on the job, kept records, made school policies and relevant resources. He subsequently took on the running of another island school - Papa Stour, now closed down - plus three on the Shetland mainland.
Three years on, another headteacher is in charge. Fred Hibbert now runs both Foula school and Bressey - another Shetland Island school, in a joint management project that began in January this year. There are 35 children in Bressey school, where Mr Hibbert has been based for two years.
Mr Hibbert is a Glaswegian who headed up another Shetland school, on Seal Island, for 12 years before he and his wife went to Australia, where he worked in similarly isolated schools serving Aboriginal children. Now in his mid-50s, he always wanted to return.
Foula school has a new principal teacher - Chris Else, from Lancashire, who started this term. Mr Hibbert visits the school, where the roll still stands at three children, once a fortnight. And once a week, Foula children fly to Lerwick for swimming then get the ferry to Bressey and spend the day with the children there. "It gives them the opportunity to form friendships with children they will at high school with," says Mr Hibbert. With the arrival of broadband, there are now plans to set up videoconferencing between Foula and Bressey schools.
Island life is not for everyone, Mr Hibbert admits. "You're never sure how people are going to manage. But I had the same issues in remote communities in Australia. Shetland is fantastic; I believe it's the highest quality of life you can find in the UK."
Neil Aiken is once again working in a Northamptonshire school.
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