Once again, there’s a growing nationwide role for Western Isles-based e-Sgoil which is supporting schools’ remote learning and teaching plans by providing resources and live lessons to young people having to work from home due to Coronavirus (COVID-19).

e-Sgoil Coronavirus (COVID-19) support

They say: “We are delighted to introduce e-Sgoil Lockdown Live, daily learning experiences to complement schools' own remote learning plans for this lockdown period.”

e-Sgoil was established in August 2016 with the hub building opening the following December. This is the former museum and former Nicolson Institute building in Francis Street, Stornoway, refurbished and fully equipped with the IT required to deliver a high-quality and reliable digital service.  Funding was provided by the Scottish Government and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

From humble beginnings, e-Sgoil has now been given a prominent role in supporting Scotland’s schools with remote teaching. e-Sgoil is an innovative online learning service, which tackles the problems of teacher shortages by delivering a wide range of subjects to secondary schools across the Western Isles and throughout Scotland.

e-Sgoil can deliver teaching in both English and Gaelic but has a focus on supporting the expansion of Gaelic medium education locally and nationally. 

When a COVID-19 outbreak was confirmed in South Uist in late September, Sgoil Lionacleit in Benbecula closed for a week in advance of the October holidays. To keep learning going during the lockdown period, e-Sgoil, the national online learning initiative based in Stornoway, stepped in to fill the gap for all S1-S3 pupils at the school.

“What e-Sgoil did was we took over the whole of the Broad General Education for Sgoil Lionacleit,” explained Angus Maclennan, Head Teacher at e-Sgoil in an article in EVENTS newspaper, adding that the curriculum delivery was devised to ensure pupils were not spending all their time in front of a computer screen.

Based around ten subjects, the lockdown school day at Sgoil Lionacleit was broken up into three webinar blocks of 90 minutes. Each 90-minute session was delivered by a teacher or partner agency – who was on the screen at all times to respond to any questions – with a second teacher monitoring the chat function. Pupils were asked to complete work tasks off-screen; to return for catch-ups in the middle of the lesson; and to regroup at the end of the 90 minutes to discuss their learning with their classmates and teacher.

“That model worked really, really well. Our pupils took to it like ducks to water. They found it quite straightforward, and the feedback was very positive,” says Angus. “It proved to be far less challenging than we imagined because we're working with a digital generation, and the communication and IT in most of the islands has improved. There are, still, of course, areas to be addressed, but there has been real progress.”

Similar lockdown support had already been provided for Galston Primary School in East Ayrshire, where pupils and their teacher had to self-isolate in September. Via e-Sgoil, another teacher from Uist taught the class throughout their self-isolation period, with the class teacher assisting – leaving the school in a position to switch to online learning if the need arose again. “There's a double dividend, where the pupils get taught, but the staff get training in the process,” says Angus.

The kind of lockdown provision seen in East Ayrshire and Benbecula is just one example of the ways in which e-Sgoil is acting as a portal for teaching, learning, and educational collaboration across Scotland during the ever-changing educational landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Additional support is now on offer to pupils at all levels of education. e-Sgoil’s online Study Support Sessions, which launched in early September and complement what pupils are learning in school after the disruption of lockdown, has had over 4300 course requests from pupils, and will be expanding to offer additional Higher and Advanced Higher support courses. 

Then there is the Senior Phase (S4-S6) Offer for pupils who need to continue to self-isolate at home, for which four new members of staff have recently been hired to provide emergency cover in English, Maths, sciences, and social subjects. In this case, pupil requests for online learning come via their local school, rather than personal sign-ups as is the case with the study support sessions. At the Primary School level, similar support is available through e-Sgoil for pupils across Scotland, with primary teachers already employed and teaching small numbers of pupils online. 

For Early Years, online provision is being planned for delivery using the ThingLink platform, where pre-recorded lessons can be shared with nurseries, and parents can access them for their children at home, too. The online “Leugh le Linda” singing and song writing sessions with the Gaelic Books Council and singer Linda Macleod, which 350 primary pupils attended in September, is now in the process of being rolled out to pre-school children; 250 children are already registered to attend the next session.

In partnership with Education Scotland, the Scottish Government, and a range of other organisations, e-Sgoil’s National Offer is providing not just lockdown support, but vacancy and supply cover to schools across the country, as well as a wide range of curriculum enrichment programmes. The successful Leugh le Linda sessions are just one example of these enrichment options, and the ongoing work with Edinburgh Zoo, who will be delivering educational sessions to schools, is another.

While a lesson can’t replicate a physical visit to the zoo, Angus points out that not all children or schools are able to travel there, even in normal circumstances. These educational inputs provide “an option at least for them to experience what Edinburgh Zoo has to offer, and that's just one example of the very many partner agencies that are willing and able to work with us, and it will add hugely to the richness and the value of curricular experience.”

It’s not just about enriching learning during the pandemic, either, but about making education and subject choice more equitable for pupils across the country, regardless of their geographic location – which was the impetus behind e-Sgoil’s launch in 2016.

“Education Scotland staff have been very, very supportive. There’s a level of collaboration going across schools, authorities, Regional Improvement Collaboratives, and Education Scotland more than there has been before,” says Angus, explaining that within the current national collaboration, e-Sgoil deliver live, interactive teaching, while other agencies are now working to create a database of recorded lessons across a wide range of curriculum areas that can be used to enhance the e-Sgoil offering.

“At the moment, we are spending time, resources and everything we can, preparing and piloting these approaches so that if and when it's required, we can swing into operation,” said Angus in the EVENTS interview last autumn, noting that it would be better to be overprepared than underprepared in the event of another crisis. “e-Sgoil is very much a catalyst. We're not trying to do things for people, we're doing things with people, and hopefully building capacity for teachers to deliver for themselves if there's a further need.