Sarah Jane MacSween – Executive Head, Uist Primary Schools
Discover your inner kindness this Christmas – ‘tis the season to be jolly and kind!
As we approach Christmas, we start to hear the word ‘kindness’ and are reminded that this word is commonly used at this time of the year.
I recently heard that kindness was contagious. It got me thinking, whether this was true and more importantly, is there any evidence to back that statement? My immediate thoughts led me to events and celebrations that unsurprisingly, all occurred within school settings. A school environment is arguably the most likely place to see evidence of natural and unconscious kindness. The evidence can be found on corridor and classroom displays, children’s work and Achievement and Celebration Walls to name but a few. Kindness can also be observed through the caring and thoughtful interactions between adult and child and their interactions with each other. I then asked myself the question, is kindness something that can be learned and how and when does it get taught?
Kindness is more than random acts. Being a kind person is about having an awareness and a willingness to respond to the needs of others.
Children learn from the examples set by the adults that surround them. Some say that they begin to imitate others from the moment they are born. As their first educators, parents/carers have the duty to allow their children to experience kindness themselves first hand and so give them the best possible start in life. Of course schools play a significant role in moulding and creating our future generation. However, it is not just the work of the school; the whole community can shape and influence young learners. Family and friendship groups can also make a significant contribution to the attitudes that our children form.
One of the building blocks of kindness is to understand and respect the rights of others. Across the Uist primaries, we pride ourselves on the quality of our Teaching and Learning about rights. Our schools have achieved silver, gold and reaccredited gold Right Respecting Schools status. Teaching and learning about rights involves whole school community involvement, our curriculum, assemblies, interdisciplinary learning, focus days and weeks and the children’s creative and informative displays within the school.
The Uist primaries will continue their Rights Respecting Schools Award journeys as a means to keeping our young children at the centre of everything that we do. We are committed to putting children’s rights at the heart of our school life. We strive to create safe and inspiring places to learn, where children are respected and learn to respect others. By enabling children to have positive attitudes to themselves and others, we enable them to form relationships characterised by kindness.
The school curriculum aims to ensure that all children and young people in Scotland develop the knowledge, skills and attributes they will need to become successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens. Underlying these capacities is the capacity to be aware of the needs of others, in a way that treats them with dignity and respect.
Each year our children and our families participate in a number of ways in responding to the needs of others at Christmas. For example, families contribute generously to the Blythswood Shoebox Appeal and a Christmas Swap Shop gives families the chance to find pre-loved party gear or Christmas jumpers. Within our schools, efforts are made to reduce family expenses through the effective use of The Cost of The School Day Toolkit. Families are encouraged to sell unwanted toys/clothes etc. on the schools’ Facebook pages, where all proceeds go towards school funds. Children and their families also reach out to the needs of the wider community by supporting local and national charities, such as WICCI, MacMillan Cancer and Marie Curie.
Another important contribution was when a school and Parent Council purchased electric trikes in partnership with the local care home as part of the Cycling Without Age Scotland initiative.
Across our Uist primaries, themed assemblies and special days highlight local, national and international issues and concerns, ensuring that children are well informed about the needs of others.
A wide range of activities that demonstrate our children’s experiences of expressing kindness take place through the course of the year. These include The Poppy Scotland Appeal, harvest festivals, donations to the local foodbank, panto/concert matinee performances for senior citizens, The Big Scottish Breakfast, sharing of pre-loved school uniform items for exchange free of charge and many other important acts of kindness.
Our schools are very fortunate to have such a high level of generous support and kindness shown to us by our local communities and businesses. Through the kindness of many donors, we receive support for school projects and events such as involvement in Mod preparation, purchases of healthy break time snacks, participation in Remembrance Sunday and sharing in intergenerational activities.
When I reflect on this range of activities in families, schools and communities, I think I can say with confidence that kindness is indeed infectious and alive and well in the Western Isles.
The future of art education in Uist
Low student numbers cause concern for newly formed college
Newly formed college UHI North, West and Hebrides will be conducting a consultation on the future of their NC Art & Design course offered at Taigh Chearsabhagh.
The new college, formed from the merger of UHI North Highland, West Highland and Outer Hebrides, last month committed to a strong presence in Uist. However, at the beginning of September confusion around the delayed start of the NC Art & Design course caused concern for the future of arts education in North Uist.
The one-year portfolio course was due to start on Monday 28 August but on the afternoon of Friday 25 August, students and staff received a phone call and follow up email advising them of a concern regarding low student numbers and a delay to the start of the course.
The email sent to students said: “We understand this news is disappointing and we can only apologise for the late communication. We will continue to look at all options and confirm by 8th September if this course will run. We can offer you an alternative course should NC Art & Design not run as planned.”
The alternative courses suggested by UHI did not include another art course and were all to be delivered as distance learning modules rather than face to face.
The announcement came as a blow to students who were just days away from beginning their course; one student had organised travel and accommodation in order to take the course and was left unsure about the future of their study.
Uist Arts Association picked up on the news and issued an email to all members detailing the importance and history of the course within the community and its strong link with Taigh Chearsabhagh.
The UAA said: “The presence of Taigh Chearsabhagh for the last 30 years and the co-location of the art courses delivered there has been a vital focus for shaping and developing a significant and thriving community of artists and people interested in the visual arts in North Uist.”
The email encouraged anyone with ties to the course to write to UHI and local politicians with their personal stories regarding the course and what it has allowed them to achieve.
Many former students responded with one saying: “The NC course was the best year of art tuition I have ever received.”
Students from the NC Art & Design course have gone on to study at Glasgow School of Art, Grays School of Art and Edinburgh College of Art among many others.
Theona Morrison, Uist resident and Director of Community Development Lens, wrote a letter to Derek Lewis, chairman of the new college, saying: “I presume the finances of UHI are under pressure, as with so many strands of life, however, what UHI seeks to save by withdrawing this course will have little impact on UHI’s bottom line but will have immeasurable impact on the Uist community.”
Since the local outcry, UHI pledged to run the course this year, however, it will only run for 18 weeks rather than the full academic year that it has been given previously. UHI has assured students that they will still receive the same qualification at the end of the course.
The college now plans to conduct a consultation on their future art offering at Taigh Chearsabhagh, saying: “UHI is committed to working with its staff, students and partners to develop its art and design offer in Uist.”
An open meeting was held at Taigh Chearsabhagh on 19 September to discuss how the community can engage with UHI to protect the future of art education in Uist.
Hannah Ritchie-Muir, UHI Vice Principal Academic, said: “We understand how important these courses are and how ingrained they are in the local community and culture of Uist. At the same time, we must also review and reflect on the sustainability of these courses which have been facing low numbers over recent years.”
Jean Archer looks back on a busy and rewarding Uist Science Week
Mid-March saw Lochmaddy’s former primary school abuzz with fun-filled activities during Uist’s first ever Science Week, funded by the British Science Association as part of its annual British Science Week, hosted by North Uist Development Company (NUDC) and magnificently organised by Selene Huntley.
The first Saturday saw dozens of primary school and pre-school age children absorbed in mixing and stirring mini-experiments – for slower running experiments the eagerly-anticipated results were not to be seen until the following Saturday. It saw the week’s main event with over a dozen stations set up for interactive face-to-face engagement with local experts.
Jean-Pierre Brien showcased the varieties of seaweed sustainably harvested by Uist Asco with the aid of aerial surveys conducted through use of the displayed drone.
Conor Lawless awed with projections from his digital microscope onto a large VDU screen supplied by Voove.
Chris Davidson showed how anyone can monitor aviation traffic using a Raspberry Pi and receiver to pick up radio waves.
Andy Robert’s remarkable collection of mainly avian skulls was as informative as it was interesting, so too were the skeletal remains mainly of marine mammals displayed by Mary Harman.
Brian Rabbitts shared his passion for birdwatching while Anne Rabbitts’ workshop on drawing of natural history specimens was particularly popular with young folk.
Maria Finnegan, over especially for the event from Scalpay, delighted youngsters with chocolate welding, aided by Amy Roberts and her girls, who also got their hands dirty helping out on both Saturdays with the messy zone.
Back on the mezzanine floor, one admirer of Ada Cambell’s inspirational and informative display on magnetism recalled that she taught him Science in the school half a century ago.
Primarily intended to promote young islanders’ interest in STEM subjects, our Science Week had much of interest for people of all ages.
Mid-week events included Jean Archer’s 430 million-year ‘excursion’ back to the origin of Uist’s ‘fossil earthquakes’; Alison Stockwell’s WI-CAN Climate Ceilidh and Ruth Gottschall’s introduction to star-gazing. Unfortunately, her planned follow-up event was scuppered by unfavourable weather.
An actual outdoor event was the fabulous and informative nature trail set up in Langass Wood by Emile Durie of Otter Mountain Wild Things.
On each Saturday people strolled freely through the shortly to re-open environmental displays, many expressing amazement and delight at the array of brightly coloured wall panels.
For youngsters a couple of microscopes were a big draw, while marine footage shown on the largest of the exhibition’s four display screens held the attention of young and old alike.
An informal talk on Uist’s ‘Fossil Earthquakes’ helped raise our £134.26 contribution to the amount raised that same Saturday by the keep-fit group’s event in Carinish Hall for victims of the Turkish/Syrian earthquakes.
Regrettably, it’s not possible here to list and individually thank all the organisations and individuals whose contributions in one way or another helped make the very first Uist Science Week so very successful. We would however single out Professor Carl Smith for specimens of Uist’s unique sticklebacks and Selene Huntley for her indefatigable Facebook postings.
North Uist Development Company is now seeking volunteers who can spare a few consecutive hours once or twice a month to help keep the Environment Centre open through the coming summer. If you can spare the time and/or would like more information about what is asked of our volunteers please make contact with us through the NUDC Facebook Page, or by e-mail to email@example.com.
The Environment Centre is not just for visitors but for everyone who is curious about Uist’s remarkable and distinctive natural heritage, its historic modification through islanders’ traditional working practices, or is concerned about the islands’ vulnerability to the adverse effects of ongoing climate change.
Careers Fair highlights the range of opportunities for young people
Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) Outer Hebrides marked November’s Scottish Careers Week 2022 by hosting Careers Events across the Western Isles.
In Uist, 279 Sgoil Lionacleit pupils, members of the public and parents gathered in the Lionacleit Sports Centre on Thursday 10th November to hear what local employers had to say.
Pupils were able to find out about a broad range of local career options, with 27 local employers, support services and learning providers on hand to answer questions and highlight the great range of opportunities available – from health and emergency services, to childcare, education, technology and construction. There was representation from larger organisation including NHS, MOWI and security and defence contractor QinetiQ.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Leader, Cllr Paul Steele, said: “It is crucial that young people across the Western Isles are made aware of the range of employment, education and training opportunities available to them. It has been fantastic to see the engagement and genuine interest of young people at these events and equally the commitment of the business community to inform and inspire.
“To see three events such as this take place across the Western Isles on three consecutive days demonstrates the fantastic work of DYW Outer Hebrides and partners in narrowing the gap between local employers and every young person in the Western Isles.”
A glimpse through time with Alasdair MacGillivray
When the contents of the Balivanich School time capsule were exposed to the light of day on 30th September 2022 before the gathered school community and former pupils and staff, I thought that it might be a good time to look back (from the security of retirement!) at the first twenty-five years of the ‘new’ (now ‘old) Balivanich Primary School by the sea.
When we were completing our teacher Training in Aberdeen in the mid-1960s, a saying often heard around the training college was: “While a week, or even a day, can be a very long time in politics, twenty years can be a very short time in the life of a school!” These wise words of caution were obviously given to try and temper our enthusiasm, and probably over-enthusiasm; the suggestion being that a school was akin to a giant oil tanker. If you wish to institute major changes, you need to make very minor adjustments to the course you are steering at a very early stage: major change is for the long haul. The political comment has certainly come home to roost over the last few days and weeks. I think that, though, even in those distant years, school buildings were built to last, but static schools preserved in aspic were on the way out! The new constant from now on would be CHANGE.
Balivanich Primary school was physically opened in April 1972 and officially opened in September 1972. It is believed to have been the only solely primary school built by Inverness County Council in its island areas. I would think that the first twenty-five years in the life of the school witnessed more changes to the school – and probably in the school – than any other period in its relatively short operational life.
The time capsule assembled in 1997 was to mark the anniversary of the first twenty-five years of the ‘new’ school beside the sea. It contained items which we thought would be of interest to pupils in 2022 – a snapshot of school and community life in the late 1990s. How many items one can remember is quite a taxing exercise! A programme of events and activites was drawn up for the whole of 1997 school year- the time capsule is the last of these.
I wonder how many pupils thought that it would be their own children who would be opening the boxes with them. How many members of staff thought that it would be their children or grandchildren who would be assisting in the ‘big reveal’ in September 2022? I must confess that I saw the year 2022 from that 1997 viewpoint as a grey blob in the distant future; it seemed so very far away, and possibly someone of my age daren’t think that they might actually witness its opening!
Balivanich Primary School set out on its path to fuller more modern ICT provision in a very slow and hesitant way: the school was nearly three years old before the local authority thought it would be a good idea to install a telephone; my predecessor had to visit the telephone kiosk in Columba Place if he wished to make urgent telephone calls. This was many years before the introduction of that wonderful institution The School Secretary. The Director of Education had a well-prepared and well-rehearsed defence against requests for additional school expenditure such as this during his regular visits to the school.
Year 1: You can’t have a secretary because you don’t have a typewriter; Year 2: You can’t have a typewriter because you don’t have a secretary. Repeat annually as required!
In 1975 we had a black and white television set to be timetabled for the whole school of about 140 pupils; we had a master radio in the headteacher’s office, piped to all the classrooms, and we had a rather wonderful cassette tape recorder (a really modern invention at the time!) we had won for submitting an entry and winning, to a national slide-tape competition. With the introduction of computers in the early- to mid- eighties our ICT steps began to gallop, so much so that after considerable begging, bargaining and fund-raising, it is safe to say that all within our school were reasonably computer literate and proficient by 1997, when the time capsule was being assembled.
What were the main challenges during these twenty-five years from 1972 to 1997 can be summed up (like the best sermon) with three ‘Ts’: Tides, Tempests and Turnover!
Tides. This part of Aird/ Balivanich was well known for tidal incursions long before the school was built, so it was inevitable that the high tides would continue to visit us, especially if backed up by strong north-westerlies. I’m sure that the good folk of Balivanich and Aird would have warned Inverness County Council of this risk. The school was barely two years old when the tide came in to a depth of 15 cm throughout the building: we had permanent tide marks on all the new furniture to commemorate this event. I can recall the tide lapping at the front door on at least seven occasions and coming into the school at least three times. Canute only had a kingdom to worry about, we had the safety of up to two hundred precious pupils and fifteen very valued members of staff to guard! It was the sea that finally defeated the school as a viable centre for education.
Tempests. During a visit from an executive from CLASP Buildings (the makers of this type of prefabricated structure, very popular with local authorities in the 60s and 70s) the fellow expressed the view that our location was probably the most exposed of any of their buildings throughout the world. I think he was pleasantly surprised that it was still standing, which wasn’t overly-reassuring! (…and 50 years later it’s still standing). It’s not surprising we had a constant battle with the elements. In addition, the flat roof, covered with tar and stone chippings to absorb the sun’s heat(?), ensured that our large armour plate glass windows were constantly being smashed under an avalanche of stones (twenty on one occasion), which also stripped the paintwork off staff cars from time to time. Where the tar cracked, the rain found its way to the classrooms and store cupboards below.
Turnover. As most of our pupils were children of service families (Army and RAF) there was a constant coming and going of pupils throughout the year: it wasn’t exceptional to enrol as many as 80, 90 or more new pupils during one school session and to see just as many leave us during that year – all at different times, after attendances of a few days up to two years on average.
Just before the end of our twenty-five years under the microscope, all this sadly came to a sudden and very abrupt end.In the mid-1990s just in the space of two years, 90 pupils left us not to be replaced, reflecting the developments at the Range and RAF Benbecula. No more would we look forward to drawing some of our pupils from all over the world.
In spite of (or because of) all of the above, I think it fair to say that we all loved working in Balivanich Primary School during 1972 to 1997, and beyond. There is a theory which maintains that the more challenging the conditions within the workplace, the more the staff work and pull together. Many visitors to the school often complimented us on the feeling of welcome, harmony, warmth, care and co-operation, they experienced on entering the school buildings.
The overarching feeling for us throughout these twenty-five years was: what a joy and privilege to share, even in a small way, in the development of all the pupils who passed through our school. We think most of them found it a very positive and happy experience.
Perhaps twenty – even twenty-five – years, is indeed a very short time in the life of a school?
Alasdair MacGillivray Oct 2022
The University of the Highlands & Islands has launched a public consultation on its proposals to merge the three colleges under its banner into one entity, bringing UHI Outer Hebrides, UHI North Highland and UHI West Highland together as one.
UHI says the new partnership would support 9000 students and 600 staff in 19 rural and island campus locations across the north of Scotland.
In Uist the move will include the three learning centres under the UHI umbrella, Taigh Chearsabhagh in Lochmaddy, Lionacleit in Benbecula and Cnoc Soilleir in Daliburgh.
UHI has offered its assurances that no compulsory redundancies will be required as a direct result of merger, saying: “The merger is about doing more, not less. By coming together, we create a more resilient, sustainable organisation, which will continue to serve our local communities in the way we do now, but with more impact. We will have combined capacity to better meet the needs of our communities and to respond to the range of social, cultural and economic opportunities that make our region one of the most exciting places in the country to live, work and study right now. It is important people get involved and have their say.”
EIS union representative Donnie Macdonald, Lews Castle College, said: “The proposed merger is important because it will set the trajectory for further and higher education across the West and North of Scotland. It is a fundamental principle that education in Scotland remains within the public sector and we are glad that the Partnership Board and Principals have agreed with us on that issue, ensuring a key recommendation of this proposal is that the new college will be incorporated as a public sector college. ”`
Informal information sessions are being held locally at:
North Uist learning centre – Taigh Chearshabagh – Tuesday 27 September, 10.30am to 1pm.
Benbecula learning centre Liniclate – Tuesday 27 September, 2.30pm to 5pm.
Cnoc Soilleir learning centre, South Uist, Thursday 29 September, 9.30am to 12pm.
Online, Wednesday 28 September, 7pm to 8pm.
Full details of how to attend on the UHI merger website.
Members of the public are invited to return their views on line, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The full merger proposal is available to view at www.rural-islands-merger.uhi.ac.uk
The consultation runs until Friday 14 October.
Award for Writing Excellence
Am Pàipear is the proud sponsor of the Lionacleit School senior writing prize, grandly titled the Am Pàipear Award for Writing Excellence.
This year, the £50 prize was shared by two young men whose skill with the written word was clear to see in their submissions.
The written pieces were completed as part of the pupils’ Higher English portfolio, which set a task to research a topic of interest and write a report of up to 1300 words on the subject.
Shaun MacDonald, aged 17, from Rhugashinish, South Uist wrote a thoughtful and passionate piece on the Western Isles fishing industry and the challenges and opportunities that the sector offers. Jamie MacSween, aged 16, from Nunton, Benbecula chose the controversial issue of childhood inoculations, setting out a compelling and well-reasoned case for mandatory vaccinations.
Both boys have a clear talent for the written word, though neither plans to earn their living from the pen; Shaun will be joining the Merchant Navy on leaving school, and has set his sights on climbing the ranks; for Jamie, the next move will be to Glasgow, where he expects to study architecture.
UHI Degree Show at Taigh Chearsabhagh
Four long years of study and many months of final preparations are coming to fruition for the art students at UHI’s North Uist Campus, based in Taigh Chearsabhagh.
The annual Degree Show will exhibit the work of graduating Fine Art students Sif Nielsen and Kathrhona Lawson. Sif moved from Denmark to study here, and has been based in Lochmaddy for the past four years. Kathrhona spent the first three years of her degree in Stirling, and came to Uist for her final year. Both artists were drawn to Uist by its natural environment and cultural heritage, and both have chosen to remain here to continue their work, joining a growing and vibrant community of artists that includes the Uist Arts Association, Taigh Chearsabhagh and UHI.
Running along side the degree show, the annual Open Studio exhibition will showcase the work of the other students studying at the North Uist campus, across both the one year NC Art and Design and the BA(Hons) Fine Art. The other students are: Jessie Coldwell, Emily Dodd, Nisha Hallberg, Andrew Wallace (NC Art and Design) Ami Robb, Liz French and Maggie Barker – BA(Hons) Fine Art.
The student population at Taigh Chearsabhagh is small but diverse, and that makes for a unique learning experience, as Course Leader Anne Mackenzie
explains: “Our current students range in age from 17 to 50, and last year we had a 70 year old who graduated from the course. Some are local, or from other parts of the Western Isles, and a good number came from across the UK and beyond to study here. That breadth of experience really adds value to the to the student’s time with us.”
Pictured is Nisha Hallberg, from Brighton, whose award winning designs for signage will be installed in the doorways at the new Cnoc Soillier building this summer. Nisha is heading off to Edinburgh to continue her studies.
Jessie Coldwell, who came to the NC course straight from Lionacleit School, was clear that the course has opened new doors for her: “I wouldn’t have chosen to pursue art as a study option if this course hadn’t been available locally. The portfolio preparation element has been so helpful in getting me ready to apply.” Jessie’s applications proved successful and she will be continuing her studies in Dundee.
The college is very much part of the community, and Anne encourages anyone with an interest in studying art to get in touch: “There are learning opportunities for different entry levels, so if you are a beginner or want to revisit your creativity after a gap, the NC course may be right for you or if you have an existing grounding in visual art and the academic qualifications, the BA (Hons) Fine Art offers an exciting opportunity.”
Both shows open on May 28th, with the Degree show closing on June 11th and the Open Studio exhibition continuing on until June 25th.
By Liam Macphee
Schools from all over Uist and Barra recently took part in the well-known football competition Cuach na Cloinne. The competition is a 5 a side tournament which is aimed at encouraging young people to use more Gaelic in their day to day life – even when playing football.
The football on display in the tournament was brilliant to watch as every team was desperate to win their way to the finals.
Sgoil Uibhist a Tuath 1 (SUAT1) won the regional final at Sgoil Lionacleit and will travel to Bught Park in Inverness to play in the final on the June 1st.
SUAT1 were unbeaten in their group, which was brilliant in itself; they went on to play Sgoil Dhalabroig, who topped the other group, in a great game of football to end off the day North vs South! Sgoil Uibhist a Tuath 1 managed to take the game quite comfortably, with a
4-2 win seeing them book their place in the finals in Inverness.
Am Pàipear took the opportunity to speak to Alex O’ Henley, UEFA’s Scotland Correspondent and award winning broadcaster and Gaelic match commentator, he said:
“You are never too young to get into the winning habit and Cuach na Cloinne is a great opportunity for the stars of tomorrow to showcase their talent while competing against contemporaries from Gaelic schools across Scotland. Sgoil an Iochdair were the first team from the Southern Isles to win this trophy a few years ago and hopefully Sgoil Uibhist a Tuath will go on to emulate them in Inverness. Uist and Barra football offers a development pathway for young talent and North Uist will be hoping that these youngsters will be breaking into their senior side in the next few years.”
Maria Murray, Development Director at Comunn na
Gàidhlig (CnAG) said: “It’s fantastic that we are able to run events like this again. The level of excitement, Gaelic and football are all excellent!”
Sgoil Uibhist a Tuath teacher Dianne Morrison is accompanying the children to Inverness, along with PE teacher Margaret Mary Findlay. Diane was delighted with the school’s performance: “As a school, we are incredibly proud of the children. After two years of restrictions, it’s fantastic to be able to take them away to Inverness for the finals. Many thanks to CnAG for organising the event.”
Pictured left to right are: back – Cathal Dobbie, Alexander MacIsaac, Ruairidh MacRitchie; front – Jack Prior- Pitt, Owen Mathis-Foote, Kyle Stewart.
Secondary school pupils move to digital
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Director of Education, William MacDonald, has written to parents of secondary school pupils to set out the Authority’s plans for harmonising timetables across the Western Isles’ four secondary schools. The letter highlights changes in provision ahead of S4,S5 and S6 pupils completing their options forms for this coming academic year, stating that a broader subject choice will be facilitated by combining some subject classes across all four senior schools, with teachers delivering virtual classes through the e-Sgoil online platform for those pupils not in the room.
Mr MacDonald said: “Harmonising the senior phase will give more of our pupils the opportunity to study a wider range of subjects. This will provide a fairer and more equitable system across our schools. It will give all our students the opportunity to develop important skills for the 21st Century.”Scotland’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) has slated the plans, asking parents to sign an online petition against the move: “Comhairle nan Eilean Siar are trying to use the pre-election period to implement sweeping changes to the learning and teaching practices in the authority’s secondary schools without consulting staff, parents or pupils.”
Asked about the timing of the changes, a Comhairle spokesperson said: “It is not new and is not being rapidly pushed through during the election period; it is, rather, the culmination of nearly three years work and the next step in the gradual movement towards full implementation. The timing of the current exercise is dictated by the typical secondary subject choice process that runs between February and May annually.”
The shift towards harmonised timetables and digital teaching solutions follows the findings of a 2018 report commissioned by the Comhairle, which recommended that: ‘A common approach to senior phase planning and delivery should take place across all four secondary schools with e-Sgoil playing the part of a virtual fifth establishment with staffing contributions from the other four schools…”
The Report also stated that: “Overstaffing levels in the four secondary schools are unsustainable and causing inefficient use of resources in the current financial climate and should be addressed as a priority.” This issue was also referenced by Mr MacDonald in his letter to parents, which stated: “We recognise that running classes year after year with very small numbers is financially unsustainable and cannot continue indefinitely.”
The EIS has been clear in linking the move to budget cuts, stating: “This is about cutting physical teachers in favour of online teaching: the harmonised timetable will result in staff reductions.”
The Comhairle has hit back against the accusation of cuts, stating: “Rather than cutting teacher posts, this initiative is intended to create capacity to meet learner needs and to timetable efficiently to allow us to retain teachers, not lose them, whilst responsibly managing public funds and allocated budgets.”
ESgoil’s Head Teacher, Angus Maclennan said: “If schools don’t change courses and delivery methods to cater for a post Covid age, we will have failed to capitalise on a crisis and we will still be using last century’s teaching approaches to educate future generations. By doing so, we will certainly not be preparing them for tertiary education and the world of work in a digital age.”