The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Ahead of the curve

e-Sgoil has been providing remote teaching in a range of subjects since 2016.

When Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that schools were to close as part of coronavirus measures, educators in traditional schools in Scotland had to change the way they taught practically overnight. But for digital learning provider e-Sgoil it wasn’t such a leap.

e-Sgoil was set up to provide digital lessons to pupils in the Western Isles. Where schools are small and subject uptake is low, it offers a way for pupils to learn and provides equity of subject choice; from National 5 Maths to music tuition. It also allows learners who are unable to attend a traditional school to continue their education. Headteacher Angus Maclennan had 30 years of teaching experience when he was tasked with helming e-Sgoil.

“I didn’t have very much interest in technology but I am very passionate about learning and teaching,” said Angus. “I strongly believe that technology will not replace teachers. But teachers who embrace technology will replace those who don’t.”

Connecting classrooms and collaboration


An important element of e-Sgoil’s structure is the creation of learning communities through live, interactive teaching. It offers pupils the chance to link up and learn with peers in other schools, develop vital digital skills as well as learn their subjects. Local Authorities in the Northern Alliance are also set to appoint Deputy Headteachers for e-Sgoil. This will make a significant difference to the school’s ability to collaborate effectively and identify and utilise teacher capacity across the Regional  Improvement Collaborative.

e-Sgoil is also collaborating with organisations to provide more choice to pupils across the country. Talks and projects have started with SCHOLAR (the online learning Hub hosted by Heriot-Watt University) and SCILT to improve equity of provision for Scotland’s learners. These plans are in the early stages, but the aim is to tackle shortages in certain subjects and maintain provision during the current crisis.

Covid-19 and helping with the move to online learning

Over the last 18 months, 26 of the 32 local authorities in Scotland have visited or contacted e-Sgoil to learn about how they function, their infrastructure and the lessons the digital provider has learned since foundation in 2016.

e-Sgoil is encouraging teachers and lecturers who have moved to remote teaching due to coronavirus to get in touch with them for advice; “We are more than happy to share our policies and procedures to help colleagues across the country. This is a strange time for us all and anything that can be done to help ensure young people still have an education is vital,” Angus commented.

Retaining teaching talent


Teachers at e-Sgoil have the flexibility to work from home or at the e-Sgoil bases in Stornoway and Carinish. For some, this has allowed them to continue working or return to teaching.

“There are many experienced and dedicated teachers out there who are being lost to the system. Scottish education’s biggest untapped resources are teachers nearing retirement, or those whose personal lives create a barrier to traditional classroom teaching,” explained Angus.

Due to family reasons, Mairi from Perth was unable to return to teach in the classroom. After joining e-Sgoil, she now works an almost fully timetabled week, something that seemed impossible previously.

She said: “I had care commitments to a young son with a congenital condition who was off school at least one week a month with ill health. The home/work balance became too much of a juggling act and something had to give. I honestly never thought about going back into teaching full-time. It wasn’t until several friends got in touch about e-Sgoil, that I gave returning to teaching some consideration.

“Now my son is doing well at college and I no longer have those care issues. I love seeing children who cannot (for health reasons) attend a traditional school building, thriving and enjoying their learning through online delivery. It really is inclusion of the highest order, and it is truly Getting it right for every child to a degree I’ve never experienced before.”

Gail, a Physics teacher living in Aberdeen, delivers Physics to pupils in Barra and first-year transition science to primary schools in the Western Isles.

Gail has hearing loss, but with the technological infrastructure provided by e-Sgoil, she is now able to teach more comfortably.

“My hearing deteriorated rapidly over the last couple of years,” Gail explained. “Working in a traditional school became increasingly challenging and I began looking for alternatives. e-Sgoil’s software makes engagement easy. There is no ‘back of the class’ in online teaching; every pupil has a face-to-face lesson with the teacher.

“As a disabled person, online teaching has given me the opportunity to continue in the job I love, with incredible support from everyone at e-Sgoil.”

GAELIC FOR THE FUTURE

 Part of what e-Sgoil is trying to do is create a new generation of Gaelic speakers. “It’s not enough to just push for youngsters to gain qualifications in Gaelic, that’s not how they are going to learn the language.
“We see more success when subjects they are passionate about are taught in the medium of Gaelic. For example, we are running a Creative Digital Media course right now in the medium of Gaelic. Pupils are more engaged because they enjoy the subject, so their learning is two-fold.”

Creating this new generation requires talented and committed teachers. GTC Scotland has produced a booklet, in partnership with Bòrd na Gàidhlig, that provides guidance on how to become a teacher in, or of, Gaelic.

Read the booklet in Gaelic and in English.