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Flying island headteacher: “We are pioneers”

A FLYING headteacher is running three of the UK’s smallest schools, commuting between them by plane.


The view from the front: looking over the pilot’s shoulder, preparing for take-off in the 8-seater plane.



Kate Evans grew up in London but is now flying to her schools in Orkney which have a combined roll of 16 pupils.

The smallest of the schools, on North Ronaldsay, has just one primary age pupil and is an 18-minute flight from the airport near her home in the Orkney capital of Kirkwall.

Kate, 59, is also the “linked headteacher” at Papa Westray, about 30 miles north of her home and with six pupils. Eday, a 10-minute scheduled flight from Kirkwall, has three girls and six boys.



Kate at the harbour in Kirkwall. She also uses ferries to reach her 16 pupils.


The island-hopping scheduled flights, in an eight-seater Loganair plane, are the only way to manage the schools and keep them open for the communities they serve.

Winds, low cloud, fog, and technical problems can play havoc with her day and Kate sometimes has to resort to the much slower ferry services.

A typical day for Kate involves getting up at 5am to make the earliest flight from Kirkwall Airport, spending much of the day at one of her island schools, a video conference with the others, and back home by 7pm.


The Kirkwall – North Ronaldsay plane, ready for boarding.



Kate grew up in Croydon and has worked all over the UK but moved to Orkney in 2008 with her artist husband David, 62, and daughter Rowan, 19.

She said: “It’s a lovely journey. It’s weather dependent, sometimes I have to make a decision to stay overnight.

“You’re aware of the wind and the fog and hailstorms. What decisions the pilots are making is very important.

“At the moment normally I would have at least four nights at home. If there’s something going on I’ll be out for a few days. ”


Warbeth Beach, Stromness, looking across to Hoy.



Kate, in a recent piece for a teaching magazine, wrote: “At 6:30 the drive to the airport, through a bright, calm morning – sparkling seas, contented livestock in the fields.

“There is a delay as the small plane (8 passenger) has ‘gone technical’ About an hour late, I set off on the 20-minute flight: a glorious way to commute – did I mention those sparkling seas?”

“On arrival, my smallest school is just getting started, our solitary pupil about to complete her ‘active start’ to the day. This sometimes means jogging outdoors, sometimes badminton, sometimes circuits – variety as important as routine when you are working in such isolation.”

She added: “I am part-trouble-shooter, part strategist, part loudspeaker for the island voice. And yes, one eye on the finances too.”

“We are pioneers. It hasn’t been done quite like this before. My flight home manages to creep in under low cloud, and I arrive home just after 7 p.m. Tomorrow? Every day produces new challenges, the tiniest thing can become a major concern – and can disappear in a flash – just like a storm passing over Orkney.”

Kate admitted the cost could be criticised compared with running an inner-city school. But she said: “If the government wants islands to be home to families, there are real political challenges.”

Watch Kate’s commute here: 

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