Dated from around 1700 the old parish school ruins on the shore of Loch Croispol was the former Established Church school. This was said to be the first free school in Scotland and served the township of Balnakeil up to the clearances.
In 1792 the Statistical Report states: “The salary of the parochial school is one hundred merks Scotch payable by Lord Reay with recourse on his Lordships tenants for one half. The quarter payments are two shillings and six pence for teaching Latin; two shillings for arithmetic, one shilling and six pence for reading and writing and one shilling for teaching to read. The schoolmaster has sometimes twenty shillings and sometimes ten or eleven shillings a year as precentor and session clerk. He has one shilling for every marriage and three pence for a baptism. The salary and perquisites could not maintain him if his employers did not accommodate him in board and lodgings. The number of scholars is forty-five. The present master is Mr Thomas Ross”.
In 1834 there were four schools in the parish, one Parochial, one Assembly and two Subscription. Following the Disruption of the Church a decision given in the Court of Session identified the work of the Assembly school with the Church of Scotland (the established church) and the Free Church set up their own school near the present church in Sangomore. This building was demolished around 1970. Two church schools continued in existence until the Education (Scotland) Act of 1872 became law when they merged into the Scots system.
Today’s primary school situated in Durine has a long history. Parts of the building date from 1830 when the Church of Scotland provided funds shortly after the shift in population from the Balnakeil domain. There have been sixteen different head teachers since 1869. It was a two teacher school.
Rebuilt in 1911 it then had around 80 pupils. Until 1939 it was both a primary and secondary school. In 1939 children of secondary age were then schooled on the east coast away from home. In 1943 the school became a one teacher school for two years. Electric lighting was installed in 1957 followed by central heating and indoor toilets in 1959. Before this, peats brought in by the children heated the school.
The janitor was paid two pound a quarter annum and worked for ten years, attending the fires three times a day. He cleaned the school on a Sunday. When a rise of one pound was denied he quit the job.
Since 1995 the children leaving the primary school attend the currently (1997) most modern school in Europe, Kinlochbervie High School, Eddrachillis.
For over 40 years the older children travelled to Golspie on the east coast, to live in hostels or board with local families, to attend Golspie High school. For many years the children stayed there all term only returning home at the holidays. Eventually this was altered and they came home for monthly visits.
Side schools were used when there were a number of children in a remote part. These were usually wooden and corrugated iron huts. There have been side schools at Cape Wrath, Laid and in the 1940s at Rhigolter for the children of the shepherd living at Carbreck and Rhigolter. Side schools were not usually staffed by qualified teachers.
In 1959 the school in Laid was closed and the three children attending there were brought into Durine school. At one time this school had forty pupils. The small gable school and schoolhouse was built in 1894 of local rubble, reddish-tooled dressing and tall chimney stacks.
The side school at Cape Wrath was in a very isolated area. Around 1935 there were ten children at the school which was situated at Achiemore. The children had to go over to Durness to sit their exams and for their Christmas Party. It was said at the time that the school was the most isolated on the mainland of Great Britain. The school closed in 1947.
For much more information on the old schools in Durness - see here - includes a photograph of the old school building at Loch Croispol.