EDUCATION & SKILLS When schools locked down, e-Sgoil stepped up to the screen

Te e-school ‘in the right place at the right time’


It’s hard to imagine many teachers would relish the opportunity to lead Scotland’s “most scrutinised school” through a global pandemic – but for one man from Harris, the experience has been “exciting, exhausting and exhilarating”. “I’m going to change the ‘e’ to

mean all these things,” jokes Angus Maclennan, headteacher of the Stornoway-based remote teaching facility e-Sgoil which was thrown into the national spotlight last March when schools locked down. Created in 2016 by “two men, a

computer, and an office” as a “lo- cal solution to a local problem”, a remarkable year of expansion has seen e-Sgoil transformed into a nationwide school. Its team of teachers, many on flex-

ible and part-time schedules, has in- creased more than eight-fold to over 120, and their classes now reach students in all 32 Scottish council areas as opposed to a handful. “We were in the right place at the

right time when Covid struck. To us, it presented more opportunities than it did challenges,” MacLen- nan says. “We’ve been asked to do things that would normally take months – in days.” Te former Gaelic teacher was

approached by Education Scotland shortly before the first lockdown – “we were seeing the storm clouds on the horizon” – and a new part- nership was formed to help deliver

remote teaching to pupils across the entire country. Te digital school had to “ramp

up very, very quickly” as from that moment it was instrumental to the National e-Learning Offer – an online programme that compli- ments the curriculum – and which has been a lifeline for thousands of students, teachers and parents dur- ing the public health crisis. In the lead up to the assessment

period in April, e-Sgoil’s study sup- port programme - comprised of 80 courses - helped over 14,000 pupils. Maclennan largely attributes the

school’s success to its close working relationship with Education Scot- land and West OS – an online bank of student resources – as well as the Northern Alliance, the Scottish Languages Centre, Keep Scotland Beautiful and digital platform Glow, which coupled with Microsoft Teams, is how teachers are beamed into learners’ homes.

But back to the “e” – what does it stand for? “It was originally elec- tronic,” says Maclennan. “But then very quickly became equity.” He is committed to “equity of

opportunity” for all students, which means access to specialist cover teachers and access to all subjects. It was a lack of this in the Western Isles that first inspired e-Sgoil. Maclennan says: “From day

one, our core business has been to supply specialist subject cover for schools, if they cannot get a teacher


to teach physics in Barra to cover an emergency, we will try to find one, somewhere, I couldn’t care less – she could be Outer Mongolia – as long as she’s a good teacher and has an adequate broadband, it can be delivered. “We’ve had a subject specialist

based in Spain, delivering courses to Scotland for a whole year and getting pupils through their SQA exams, no problem.” At one particular school in the

Western Isles, e-Sgoil has made al- most double the number of subjects available to pupils in their senior phase. And this means that “pupils get

what they want and what they enjoy… and if you get that, you get better engagement, better behav- iour and better results all round.” From the outset, Maclennan

stresses, e-Sgoil merely intended to complement what schools do. “Tis will never replace good qual- ity classroom teachers. And we wouldn’t want to do that.”

But digital teaching has undeniably opened up a world of learning op- portunities and removed barriers – whether geographical or physical. “We have currently got a pupil

who’s stuck in India, joining our e-Sgoil classes on a daily basis,” Maclennan says. Te child, who was in India with their family when Covid struck, has been able to con- tinue learning and interacting with their classmates.

Steven Graham teaches higher maths from e-Sgoil, Stornoway, to pupils on the Isle of Benbecula

According to Maclennan, digital

teaching and learning is also pre- paring youngsters for the future of remote working. “I’m almost 100 per cent sure that

we will not go back to pre-Covid norms,” he says. “Most of us are working at home, [which] means working online for many…. If you’re learning online, as a pupil, you’ve developed these skills even before you go into the world of work. “It’s absolutely essential. I think

that even if we go back to a sem- blance of normality, every pupil in the senior phase should be doing at least one class online.” Tere are benefits for teachers

too. Te working hours are flexible,

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