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Exploring Orkney’s Constitutional Future: Education

On Tuesday 4th of July 2023 Orkney’s Councillors instructed the islands’ officials to embark on the arduous and expensive task of investigating a different constitutional set up. In this series of articles The Orkney News will explore the current situation and how the various options would impact on islanders.

We begin with those services the council and its councillors have direct responsibility for. The first topic covered is Education.



Orkney’s schools are part of the Scottish Education System and pupils enjoy a quality learning experience with many going on to higher education.

There are no private schools in Orkney and all of them are non-denominational. A few parents make the choice of home education and some send their children out of the islands to be educated privately – usually to mainland Scotland. The number who do this is very small.

Teachers are all registered with the GTCS (General Teaching Council of Scotland) and salaries are paid at the same level as Scotland. For example, the current Head Teacher vacancy at the 11 pupil Eday island school is for a salary of £66,405. The salary includes the extra incentives of Remote Schools Allowances and Distant Islands Allowance. Salaries for teachers are negotiated at a national level in Scotland

Early Learning and Child care has been expanded in Scotland . Orkney provides Funded Early Learning and Childcare (3-5 year olds including eligible 2 year olds) as part of the Scottish Government’s programme.

The Scottish Government has  a multi-year capital and revenue funding agreement in place with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) which is fully funding the expansion in funded entitlement.

The fabric of the schools is also extremely important and islanders are aware of the many new schools which have been built or improved upon in Orkney over recent years.

The front entrance to Kirkwall Grammar school

The new Kirkwall Grammar school was officially opened in June 2014 by the then First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond. The new Papdale Halls of Residence was also opened. The school and halls were built as part of Orkney’s £58 million Schools Investment Programme, boosted by £40 million from the Scottish Government. Other new schools were also completed around the islands including Evie.

The new Evie school was built with a grant of £1.36 million from the Scotland’s Schools for the Future programme and £1.74 million from Orkney Islands Council.

Commenting on the opening of the Evie School in 2018 the then Convener of the OIC Harvey Johnston said:

“A new school serving Evie and Rendall had been an aspiration for the Council and the local community for many years. We are grateful for the assistance we received from the Scottish Government in getting the project off the ground. From the warm welcome offered to the Deputy First Minister today, it is all too apparent how pleased the children and staff are with their new school.”

University Provision

Orkney has the campuses of three Scottish Universities. Two are based in Stromness: Heriot Watt’s International Centre for Islands Technology (ICIT), and Robert Gordon’s University. In Kirkwall The University of the Highlands and Islands has its Orkney base.

Kirkwall Campus of the Orkney University of the Highlands and Islands. The main entrance of the building with shrubs on either side. Glass doors, and sloping roofs with smooth paving out the front
UHI Orkney College Campus

The presence of the universities has been extremely important. Firstly with UHI it gives Orcadians the opportunity to remain in the islands whilst studying. All three universities also attract students and researchers to come to Orkney where they make a positive contribution to island life. As part of Scotland Orkney students do not pay tuition fees.

So what could change if Orkney decides to separate from Scotland which it has been part of for over 550 years?

The only way to look at this, until the OIC concludes its costly investigations, is to compare what happens in some of the constitutional arrangements being favoured by the current administration in Orkney.

The States of Guernsey

The population of Orkney is 22,500. One of the ideas being put forward is that Orkney become a Crown Dependency of the UK. Let’s look at Guernsey in the Channel Islands for comparison, however, it must be stressed that its population is much greater than Orkney’s at over 63,000.

Click on this link for the range of Education services provided by the States of Guernsey

Teaching in Guernsey, as in Scotland, is an all graduate profession. How pay is negotiated, however, is different and follows the way it is done in England, although sometimes at a higher rate. All qualified primary and secondary teachers will have a starting salary of at least £28,000. However, in England schools have their own pay scales for qualified teachers. Pay increases will always be linked to performance, not length of service, and will be reviewed every year.

There are no Universities in Guernsey.

An agreement reached between the States of Guernsey and the UK Government in 2021 on University fees was as follows:

Students from the Bailiwick of Guernsey attending universities and other higher education providers in England will be guaranteed to pay home fees going forwards, following a decision by the UK Government. While the vast majority of universities currently charge Bailiwick students the same fees as UK students, previous UK legislation relating to English providers meant that a few institutions have charged Crown Dependencies’ students international fees. The difference between home and international fees may add thousands or tens of thousands of pounds to the cost of a university place.

Those wishing to study at a University in the UK have tuition fees which range from £9,000 and more to pay.

At the other end of the education demographic there is free pre-school provision (the year before primary school commences) for up to 15 hours per week, 38 weeks a year (term time only), supported by the States of Guernsey. The pre- school providers are in the private sector.

The Faroes

It has also been suggested that Orkney has an arrangement similar to The Faroes, an autonomous territory of the Kingdom of Denmark. Population 54,000

The education system of the Faroe Islands consists of three main levels: primary and secondary education, upper secondary education, and higher education. Children normally start school at age 7 and in both Primary and Secondary school the official language is Faroese. To get into the upper Secondary pupils have to pass an exam.

 The University of the Faroe Islands was founded in 1965. The Faroese Student Grant Fund is a subsidiary of the Ministry of Culture. Its primary goal is to provide student grants and loans to Danish nationals and permanent residents in the Faroe Islands who study in the Faroes and abroad. 


Another idea put forward is that Orkney returns after 550 years with Scotland to be ruled from Norway. Vikings began attacking the islands of Orkney in about the 8th century AD. The Christianised islands were one of the Kingdoms of The Picts and by the 8th C the fertile lands and the seas abundant for fishing proved ripe pickings for the invaders.

The population of the independent nation of Norway is very similar to that of Scotland (which has a devolved government within the UK) at about 5.4million. Norway, like Scotland, is not one blob of a land mass but has many islands.

Norway has pre school care/education from the age of 1. The primary language of the schools is Norwegian, although support is given to non Norwegian speakers. Primary and lower secondary education covers children aged 6 to 15.  Local authorities are required to offer before and after-school care for pupils in 1st to 4th grade. For upper secondary there is a programme of general studies but also vocational training. Tuition at public universities in Norway is free, even for international students.

A teacher’s average salary in Norway is about 446,000 NOK (£32, 647.20) per year. Salaries start from 205,000 NOK (£15,006.00) to 710,000 NOK (£51, 972.00).

“fluency in Norwegian and a lengthy teaching degree are the minimum standards to teach in Norwegian schools.Universities and colleges offer specific training for those wishing to work with the education of small children. The course takes four years although there is a substantial work experience component.” Life in Norway

Past council administrations in Orkney worked very well with the Scottish Government to bring to the people of Orkney educational services of a very high standard. Co -operating in the building of schools, nurseries, halls of residence and the provision of early years education. In the event of Orkney voting in a referendum to separate from Scotland, negotiations would have to include financial reparations to Scotland for the substantial support in the funding of the construction of schools and other educational facilities. The package of fully funded places for pre schoolers , if it was to continue, would have to be financed solely by Orkney.

The UK Government has ruled out Orkney becoming a Crown Dependency and negotiations to return to rule from Norway would see islanders paying much more income tax than they do at the moment, if Norway was to want to rule over Orkney again. The question of taxation and finances will be discussed in more detail in future articles.

Fiona Grahame

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2 replies »

  1. An excellent well balanced piece thanks to the author’s well research and diligence

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