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Shetland (from Middle Scots Ȝetland) is a subarctic archipelago of Scotland that lies north and east of mainland Great Britain. The islands lie some 80 km (50 mi) to the northeast of Orkney and 280 km (170 mi) southeast of the Faroe Islands. They form part of the division between the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the North Sea to the east.

The total area of Shetland is 1,468 km2 (567 sq mi) and the population totalled 22,210 in 2009. The islands' administrative centre and only town is Lerwick.

Comprising the Shetland constituency of the Scottish Parliament, Shetland is also one of the 32 council areas of Scotland.

The largest island, known simply as "Mainland", has an area of 967 km2 (373 sq mi), making it the third-largest Scottish island and the fifth-largest of the British Isles. There are an additional 15 inhabited islands.


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The early historic period was dominated by Scandinavian influences, especially from Norway, and the islands did not become part of Scotland until the fifteenth century. When Shetland became part of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, trade with northern Europe decreased, although fishing has continued to be an important aspect of the economy up to the present day. Now part of the United Kingdom, the discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s significantly boosted Shetland incomes, employment and public sector revenues.

The local way of life reflects the joint Norse and Scottish heritage including the "Up Helly Aa" fire festival, and a strong musical tradition, especially the traditional fiddle style. The islands have produced a variety of writers of prose and poetry, many of whom use the local Shetlandic dialect. There are numerous areas set aside to protect the local fauna and flora, including a number of important seabird nesting sites.

Islands of Shetland

The definition of an island used in this list is that it is land that is surrounded by seawater on a daily basis, but not necessarily at all stages of the tide, excluding human devices such as bridges and causeways.

The Shetland archipelago comprises about 300 islands and skerries, of which 16 are inhabited. In addition to the Shetland Mainland the larger islands are Unst, Yell and Fetlar. There are four islands joined to the Shetland Mainland by bridges, East Burra, West Burra, Trondra, and Muckle Roe. There is also a bridge from Housay to Bruray. Nowhere in Shetland is more than three miles (5 km) from the sea.

Mavis Grind (Old Norse: gate of the narrow isthmus) is a narrow neck of land little more than 100 metres (328 feet) wide separating St Magnus Bay and the Atlantic in the west from Sullom Voe and the North Sea in the east.

Other than Mainland, the islands with the largest populations are:

  • Whalsay - 1034
  • Yell - 957
  • West Burra - 753
  • Unst - 720
  • Bressay - 384
  • Trondra - 133
  • Muckle Roe - 104

All other inhabited islands have populations of under 100 each.

Education in Shetland

Education provision is mostly the responsibility of the Shetland Islands Council’s Education Service. It spans a range from pre-school to degree-level study, with extensive adult-learning opportunities.

A network of 32 primary schools covers the islands. Some rural primary schools are very small, employing only one or two teachers, and class sizes in these also tend to be small. After Primary 7, children move up to secondary school.

Four-year secondary schools (junior secondary), which offer courses up to Standard Grade (rather like O level in England), operate in Unst, Yell, Whalsay, Skerries, Aith, Scalloway, and Sandwick.

Students wishing to proceed to Higher Grade study move, at the beginning of their fifth year, from one of these to one of the two six-year secondary schools in Brae or Lerwick.

Shetland College, in Lerwick, offers a range of vocational and academic subjects. In Scalloway, the NAFC Marine Centre provides training in marine-related subjects, for example navigation, fishing technology and marine engineering. Both these colleges are part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, meaning that it is possible to study in Shetland to degree level.

Distance learning in Shetland

A number of universities offer distance learning courses in Shetland, including the Open University, Heriot-Watt University and University of the Highlands and Islands. There are also some distance learning courses at college/vocational level.

It is thus even more surprising that there seems to be no organised use of distance learning at school level, especially when one compares Shetland with similar island regions around the world.

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