This article by Katie Macleod was first published in EVENTS newspaper (available at on 09/01/2020 


At the start of each new year, young people in the Senior Phase (S4-S6) of secondary schools across Scotland prepare to choose their subjects for the next school session.

In the Outer Hebrides, the choices available to those in the Senior Phase will look a bit different in 2020, as efforts are underway to increase the variety of subjects available to pupils throughout the authority.

It’s all thanks to the planned introduction of a Harmonised School Day and Common Timetable across the islands’ three smaller secondary schools: Castlebay Community School in Barra, Sgoil Lionacleit in Benbecula, and Sir E Scott School in Harris. When the 2020-2021 school session begins in June, it’s hoped that all three schools will be operating on the same schedule, with The Nicolson Institute harmonizing its timetable as much as possible, due to its larger size.

The goal of a common timetable and choice form throughout the islands’ schools is to make educational provision across the Outer Hebrides more equal, offering pupils the largest possible choice of subjects as they work through the Senior Phase. “It’s about maintaining a degree of flexibility while maximising the subject offer and the equity of provision across the Western Isles,” explains Angus Maclennan, Head Teacher at e-Sgoil. “We’re trying to add value to what’s already being provided.”

In practice, a common timetable will mean that small groups of pupils can be grouped into viable classes across multiple schools. Whereas in the past, a student may have had to study a subject in isolation if they were the only student interested in the course – or not even study it at all – with the new plans, it would be possible for them to study alongside pupils in other schools, thanks to the VScene video conferencing technology that allows for remote teaching. “It’s pupil-centred. It’s about trying to give pupils an improved offer and map the curriculum to what they want to do,” says e-Sgoil Principal Teacher of STEM, Steven Graham.

As well as widening curriculum choice, the harmonized timetables will help ensure parity between academic and applied learning subjects, and increase the availability of applied learning options, such as Foundation Apprenticeships and Skills for Work courses, across all schools. If young people have the option to study an applied learning course that directly relates to the economic opportunities available in the islands, it increases their chances of being able to live and work in their own communities on leaving school. Hospitality, for example, is an area of upcoming opportunity, as tourism becomes one of the region’s largest economic drivers.

“Another reason is positive, sustained destinations within the islands as well as outwith, to give people the chance to live, learn, and earn within their own communities,” says Angus of the push behind the expanded curriculum. He adds that it could benefit not just young people in school who are preparing for their post-school lives, but teachers who want to live and work in their own, perhaps more rural, communities, who can then teach, either full-time or on a flexible basis, in their own school, and remotely to others.

The redesign of the curriculum for 2020-2021 will also expand the availability of Gaelic, not just as a language class, but also in terms of specialist subjects being taught through the medium of Gaelic. “When pupils do courses through the medium of Gaelic – such as Childcare, Healthcare or Creative and Digital Media – there is a relevance to the language, and those people who end up living, working, and earning in the local community will have a language that they use in their daily work,” explains Angus. 

In addition to increased subject choices, more options for applied learning, and an expansion of the number of subjects taught in Gaelic, there will also be more “enrichment” benefits as a result of the common timetable.“Whether it’s having an external speaker teach into all these schools at the same time, or allowing for pupil-led learning opportunities, where pupils can present to each other because they’re timetabled at the same time, it’s an untapped resource,” says Steven of the potential available with a harmonized timetable.

Incremental plans are being put in place now to prepare for the changes, as young people wait for their choice forms. Soon, location will no longer be a limiting factor in educational options. “The aim is to widen curriculum choice, and create employment opportunities and positive destinations,” says Angus.