During his recent visit to Orkney, education writer James McEnaney met Lee Ferguson, a young, newly-qualified science teacher who has packed up his life and moved to Stromness. They discussed the benefits of teaching in a small school, the importance of making people feel like they matter, and why teaching is the only job he ever wanted.

You’re 24 and just starting out on your teaching career, but you don’t seem like the kind of person who, like me, rather stumbled into the profession?

I started volunteering in schools when I was in S4. I got a part-time volunteer job at a local primary school and through my sixth year used to take a day off timetable every week to go and spend that volunteer as a classroom assistant there. That was something that my school allowed me to do which is fantastic. I did that all through uni.

School is the only thing I've ever wanted to do.

I've only ever wanted to help young people realise what their futures can hold for them. Only teaching lets you do that. That is the only job where you get to do that.

What made you want to teach in a place like this? Was it just a case of applying for any jobs that were going or was there something specific that you were looking for?

Well, it's not one thing, right? It's never one thing. It's always a lot of stuff that comes together at once. I had been in three schools. Two schools were during my PGDE year. One was in a place called Elgin Academy, which was actually my high school which is an amazing school. The principal teacher was my chemistry teacher, he was still there, and I learned an awful lot there. They had 1200 to 1300 kids. I then went to Milnes in Fochabers, which has 400 kids.

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So two very, very different schools. Both fantastic. But at the start of every lesson you would go and stand in the corridor, and you would have kids walking by you and sometimes they would be messing about - shoving each other or taking their phones out or whatever it is.

In Milnes, you knew every student's name. Every time a student walked past it was 'Freddie, put your phone away', 'Jack stop pushing' and it was so -- communal. That is the only way I can describe it.

And that sense of connection is, to you, an important part of teaching?

It felt like a community school where everyone knew everyone, so even if you didn't teach them this year, even if they didn't take chemistry or they had a different science teacher, you knew who they were. You knew that they had challenges, what those challenges were, and you showed interest in them.

That's impossible to do, I think, properly, in a school with 1400 kids. I don't think having schools that size is an effective way to teach young people because you are looking after them as figures of responsibility, as figures of consistency and caring, and you can only do that if you know all of them.

So, the first reason I came to Stromness is just the size: it's 300 kids.

You didn’t need to come all the way to Orkney for a small school, though – there are a fair few of them in Scotland. You could have gone to Argyll, or the Borders, or the Highlands. What made you decide to come here?

I did apply to schools in the Borders, and I applied to a school in Argyle and Bute, and I applied to a school in Moray, and one in Inverness-shire. They were all the same to me. They were all just, as you say, small schools. I applied to ten of them.

What made me come to Stromness was that I got a call from the head of chemistry. She just wanted to check with me what days I might be free because she knew that it was going to be such a big deal for me to come up to Orkney.

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So she had considered that I was going to have to take time out of my schedule to come to Orkney. No other school did that. No other school contacted me beforehand going: "Hi, you're going have to travel here. Can we help work around your schedule? This is when we're thinking - how does that sound?”

That was the first thing that I got from this school and it continued on and on and on. And it is that sort of consideration for the people around you that I think you get in Orkney.

Obviously moving to Orkney is a leap in itself, but you’ve not come here for a full-time teaching position either – the contract is for two days a week right now. For some people that simply wouldn’t be possible, of course, and even for others it would make moving seem even more risky. What has it meant for you?

That is a really good point and is actually really, really important, I think. So I'm not planning on working two days a week. I'm planning on doing supply and that's something else that being in a place like Stromness gives you - I can walk into a class that isn't my own and I probably teach 90% of those kids.

I am looking forward to spending days going around the school, being in different departments, seeing how they run and seeing the kids in different environments. It's like the activities that we run on a Friday - the reason that that is so good is because you get to see kids in different contexts.

That's why we do lunchtime clubs and after school clubs. That's why schools run that kind of stuff - to see students outwith their classroom. I'm going to get to do that.

I'm going to get to see students in history and maths and drama. I'll see students maybe where chemistry isn't their thing - and that's fine, chemistry is not everyone's thing - but doing something that they do love. And that will be such a great experience.