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.”
Staff and students are all aboard for new adventures
Iain Stephen Morrison
Former teacher at Daliburgh School, Eòghann MacLachlainn, and members of the South Uist and Eriskay Sailing Club, have donated five sailing dinghies, plus a storage container and £12,242 to put towards future outdoor learning projects to Sgoil Dhalabroig.
Staff and students wasted no time putting the generous donation to use, forming a new sailing club, which meets after school every Thursday. Sam Minty and Màiri MacLean, teachers at the school, lead the club and take to the water themselves, with the club members, on the loch next to Sgoil Dhalabroig.
“It is a real example of community working together as between the donation from South Uist and Eriskay Sailing Club and the support we received from local companies, establishing the club has not cost anything,” explained Mr Minty.
Sgoil Dhalabroig received technical and logistical support setting up the club infrastructure from CalMax Construction Ltd, Mowi Scotland, Macaulay Askernish Ltd, Scottish and Southern Energy, Scottish Water, Stòras Uibhist and Laing Motors.
“We have the five boats and when we go out on the water we have two kids in each boat. It is very much a case of giving the children some tips and ideas, then helping them to find their own feet,” continued Mr Minty.
“When the weather is not suitable for sailing, the club still meets indoors to work on maintenance. We recently fitted some new sails to the boats and we also work on rope skills and cover some theory on the mechanics of sailing. It is complex and requires concentration, as there is a lot of hand to eye co-ordination in sailing.
“I think to some extent some small boat capacity has been lost here in the islands so it is great that these kids have the opportunity to get out and gain some experience while they are young and hopefully reignite that skill and passion people have here for boats.
“Doing something like this gives the kids a lot of confidence and independence and lets them build on their team working skills.”
When asked to name the most fun experience so far in sailing club, the kids were unanimous in choosing capsizing! However, the club members also spoke of other positive experiences, not least developing their team working skills.
“We have learnt how to set the boat up and then sail on the water. It is complicated at first but once you get the hang of it gets much easier,” said Ruairidh Steele (P7).
“We have also covered how to safely capsize the boat and loosen and tighten the fittings so the boat does not tip,” added Jack MacIntyre (P7).
“You have to communicate with whoever is in the boat with you before you move on board the boat or manoeuvre so nothing goes wrong,” explained Maria MacLellan (P7).
“We have also learnt about all the different parts of the boat and how to put it all together ready to go in the water. It is difficult at first but gets easier the more we get experience out in the water,” said Anna Scott (P7)
“Capsizing is definitely the most fun thing we have done but it has been great learning lots of new skills,” added Ava Peers (P7).
£3 million funding “highlights critical role for Cnoc Soilleir” as the islands recover from COVID-19
Iain Stephen Morrison
Ceòlas chair Màiri MacInnes has welcomed a new financial commitment for £3 million from the Scottish Government for phase two of for Cnoc Soilleir and said it highlighted the critical role for the new centre as the islands recover from COVID-19.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney confirmed the investment on 24th March 2021, amid a succession of announcements made in the final hours in office for the current Scottish Government.
“We are talking with the Scottish Government and stakeholders all the time to identify opportunities to support Cnoc Soilleir. We are delighted to have secured this funding towards the second phase of development and believe it underlines how important Cnoc Soilleir will be as part of the local recovery from COVID-19,” explained Mrs MacInnes.
“We have reviewed and found that the design of Cnoc Soilleir, which is spacious with excellent ventilation, is very suitable for working post-coronavirus and that no changes are required to the design. In that sense, Cnoc Soilleir will be even more important as the islands seek to rebound from the impacts of COVID-19.”
Cnoc Soilleir will be a state-of-the-art institution for education, music, dance, culture and Gaelic and is being developed through a partnership between Lews Castle College and Ceòlas. Lews Castle College will deliver courses from the centre during the week in term time, while outwith core college hours Cnoc Soilleir will become the base for events and activities with Ceòlas.
Cnoc Soilleir will include classrooms and versatile teaching spaces for students with both Lews Castle College and Ceòlas. Plans for the centre also include a resource centre, recording studio and offices for both Lews Castle College and Ceòlas.
Cnoc Soilleir will be built to Passivhaus standards, with minimised running costs and CO2 emissions, and will improve access to formal and informal education and offer cultural engagement opportunities for both local residents and visitors to South Uist. It is envisaged the new centre will enable further growth in the Gaelic language economy in an area that is recognised as a key community for the revitalisation of the language in Scotland.
Local contractors, MacInnes Bros Ltd, started work on construction of the first phase of the new centre early in 2020. Phase one will see the construction of teaching and office spaces, while the second stage will comprise a bespoke auditorium and dance facilities. It is estimated the second phase will cost around £5 million to develop, with £3 million now secured from the Scottish Government.
“Phase one is on track and within budget, with completion expected before the end of 2021,” continued Mrs MacInnes.
“We have had designs finalised and planning permission in place for the second phase for some time, but we need to review now in light of increasing costs and interruption in the supply of materials as a result of COVID-19 and Brexit. However, if we can secure the remaining investment, our aspiration is to commence with construction of phase two as soon as the first stage is completed.
“Cnoc Soilleir will make South Uist an even more desirable place for people to live and work, in particular after the difficulties of COVID-19. Even with more opportunities for remote working, Cnoc Soilleir will further increase the appeal of a place where the Gaelic language is alive in the community,” concluded Mrs MacInnes.Cnoc Soilleir has received funding from numerous individual donors, Scottish Government, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.
The Scottish Schools Pipes and Drums Trust (SSPDT) annual schools’ championship is being held this year as an online event and for the first time ever, this freestyle competition is open to primary schools.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Instrumental Music Service Piping teacher Esther MacDonald recently encouraged pupils at Balivanich Primary to form a small band and to submit an entry.
As the timescale has been very short, and with Covid restrictions on singing, and the playing of wind instruments in schools, combined with all instrumental music tuition being delivered online since Christmas, it has been an extra challenge to get a performance together.
Fiona MacInnes, Principal Teacher at Balivanich School said: “We would firstly like to thank Mrs Esther MacDonald (Piping teacher) for instilling her vision and encouraging self-belief in our pupils. During what has been a difficult time for many, our ABC Band have been motivated and encouraged to excel themselves in their chosen discipline.
They have willingly rehearsed together during play and lunch times and have also convened through Teams in the evenings for some extra practices. This was made possible by the fact that all members of the band are part of the same school ‘bubble’.”
A setlist of three songs has been recorded, The Dark Island, Kalabaken, and Donald MacLean’s Farewell to Oban. The performance is called “An t-Eilean Dorcha”
Fiona MacInnes said: “We feel that our ABC Band’s competition entry conveys the resilience, teamwork and perseverance which our pupils have shown throughout the past few weeks, whilst celebrating our unique cultural heritage.
Judging will commence on Saturday 27th March at 7pm and we hope that our School Community – near and far – will support our band by taking part in the People’s Choice vote on Sunday 28th March.”
Pupils in the primary school have been described as having ‘a great buzz out of it all, it has certainly brightened up the school day a touch over the last few weeks.’
One band member said: “It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this – I have been playing the chanter for two and a half years but I have never joined with other instruments”
After a tough year of restrictions and being in and out of school, the band say they “Feel amazing to be in the band – it’s good to play music with my classmates and I’m excited about it all”
Balivanich School and Parent Council have been very supportive, and local businesses have assisted with the purchase of e-Chanters for tuition in Western Isles schools during Covid restrictions.
MacInnes Bros. Builders assisted with the purchase of t-shirts for the new band and its members.
Balivanich Primary School wants to give special thanks to Culla Creations for the fabulous job they made of filming the entry.
The pupils in the band have benefitted from tuition provided by the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Instrumental Music Service through the Youth Music Initiative (YMI).
This funding is awarded annually to local authorities across Scotland with one of the main aims being to allow all school pupils access to a year’s free music tuition before the end of primary school.
Shortlisted films will be broadcast on the Pipe Bands for Schools Facebook page, with the Sgoil Baile a’ Mhanaich ABC band performance scheduled for 7pm on Saturday 27th March.
Voting for the people’s choice section takes place on Sunday 28th March between 12 noon and 5pm, again via the Pipe Bands for Schools Facebook page, with the full results being announced at 7pm the same day.
The band performance can be viewed here – https://www.facebook.com/Piping4Pupils
Balivanich Primary are the only school in the Western Isles entered this year.
Best of luck to all who participated.
The University of the Highlands and Islands has announced details of a free, public seminar series.
The online events, which are part of the university partnership’s tenth birthday celebrations, will explore how key sectors can contribute to the region’s post-COVID recovery.
Named after the Gaelic word for ‘leading’, the ‘A’ stiùireadh’ series will feature a range of panellists and cover topics including education, health and the marine economy.
The series will begin on 31st March 2021 with a look back at the development of the university partnership and the impact it has had on the Highlands and Islands, Moray and Perthshire.
Speakers in the ‘communities and economy’ discussion will include the new University of the Highlands and Islands Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Todd Walker, and the former Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor James Fraser.
Other speakers involved in the program are Charlotte Wright, Chief Executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Florence Jansen, President of the Highlands and Islands Students’ Association and James Ellsmoor, an expert in island sustainability and the university’s alumnus of the year for 2020.
The seminar programme will run until the summer, starting on 31st March 2021 and finishing on 10th June 2021.
Topics in the discussion groups consist of ‘Leading the blue economy’ and ‘Leading rural health’ as well as others.
The list of events and sign up sheets can be found at the universities website.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise is supporting the series and several staff members will be joining the panels.
Chief Executive, Charlotte Wright said: “In achieving successful economic recovery, the University of the Highlands and Islands has a crucial role in responding to new economic opportunities, providing an education and research offer linked to different industries and strengthening the region’s workforce and communities.
Our strategic partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands network has grown stronger every year and we very much look forward to working with them to make these webinars a success for our region’s businesses.”
Speaking about the series, the university’s new Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Todd Walker, said: “The University of the Highlands and Islands partnership was created to have a transformational impact on the prospects of our region. We aim to attract and nurture talent in our region, helping to reverse population decline and build innovation and socio-economic prosperity.
“Along with colleagues in public, private and third sector organisations, we have a vital role to play in supporting our region’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Our tenth birthday seminar series offers us an exciting opportunity to explore how our key sectors can work together to support the communities we serve.”
To find out more about and to sign up to the events, visit www.uhi.ac.uk/events.