This article, written by Katie Macleod, was first published in EVENTS newspaper (available at on 02/11/2017

Pupils, teacher, and schools across the Outer Hebrides celebrated successes at the Royal National Mod in Lochaber last month, taking home medals in everything from choral competitions to accordion solos.

For music education in the islands, success is being achieved not only in traditional music, but across the board, with new initiatives, partnerships, and even a funding boost from Creative Scotland.

“In terms of music, we are delivering quite a lot of that already from the Education Department,” says the Comhairle’s Music Development Officer, Gavin Woods.

“30 per cent of our young people are actively involved in learning a musical instrument through school, one of the highest rates in Scotland.”

This takes place in a number of ways: full-time music instructors teach wind and brass, piping, and Gaelic singing, while part-time instructors – working as part of a Scottish Government programme called the Youth Music Initiative – offer lessons in fiddle, guitar, keyboard, and whistle.

This article was first published in EVENTS newspaper (available at on 02/11/2017

With more and more people finding their news online, the Education and Children’s Services Department at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar decided to open another channel of communication with the communities of the Western Isles – by starting a blog.

Launched in April of this year, the “Director’s Blog” was set up following feedback from the wider community, and offers updates from the perspective of the Director, Bernard Chisholm, as well as the Department as a whole.

The homepage shows a welcome message from Bernard, while various sections host information that parents, young people, and other service users may need. On the Information Services page, for instance, there are links to school contact details, holiday dates, and free school meals, while the Department News page shows updates and bulletins on everything from school events to software upgrades.

Members of the public looking for policy updates will find them on the Comhairle Committee page, which features links to the agendas and reports of the Education and Children’s Services Committee.

This article was first published in EVENTS newspaper (available at on 05/10/2017

The e-Sgoil programme at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has been hailed a success. The first year of operation was designated a ‘Proof of Concept Year’. However, due to demands on the programme internally and externally it has, in effect, been fully operational all year.

An independent review of the first 12 months, stated: “It is very commendable how the leadership team at the Comhairle have looked for opportunities to test the e-Sgoil platform during the setup year, but also their active desire to help other authorities and schools in difficult situations has been impressive.

"Some highlights have included; the partnership with Aberdeen City Council and Hazlehead Academy for the delivery of a Gàidhlig course thereby ensuring the continued opportunity for the pupils in the face of a staffing shortage; the links with Bishopbriggs Academy in East Dunbartonshire, again addressing a staff shortage for a three month period; the RMPS higher course delivered from The Nicolson Institute to Sir E Scott school in Harris. These and other examples have not only proved the platform can work but also has provided very positive feedback.

This article, written by Katie Macleod, was first published in EVENTS newspaper (available at on 05/10/2017

It’s widely recognised that the opportunity to be have fun, be creative, and develop physical literacy through play is important for children, particularly in their early years.

But as public budgets shrink, and the costs of maintaining traditional play areas becomes challenging, local authorities – including Comhairle nan Eilean Siar – are looking at alternative ways to provide play space for young people.

Over the last two years, council officers in the Outer Hebrides have been working towards developing a sustainable strategy for the play parks they maintain. There are currently more than 80 play areas throughout the Outer Hebrides, with the standards and equipment at each varying widely from one area to the next. These numbers include those traditionally built close to social housing and schools, as well as those funded by local communities, such as the Eoropie Dunes Park in Ness.

More than 50 of these parks come under the council’s remit. A traditional play area, with a multi-function play unit, swings, and roundabouts, can cost anywhere in the region of £60,000 - £100,000. Additional costs include the extra expense of investing in equipment suited to the islands’ climate, as well as the continued upkeep of parts, matting, and even fences. With local authority budgets decreasing over the last decade, the reality is that not every play area in the islands can be maintained or replaced.

It’s a sensitive topic. Regardless of how well-used (or otherwise) a play area is, people want one in their neighbourhood. In order to inform a new sustainable strategy for play areas, the Comhairle has hosted community surveys and workshops on the issue for the past two years, with the latest survey taking place earlier this summer. The recent Community Signature surveys carried out by Education and Children’s Services also offered residents the chance to give their opinion on local facilities.

This article, written by Katie Macleod, was first published in EVENTS newspaper (available at on 05/10/2017

Data released last month by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) shows continued educational success for the Western Isles, as well as highlighting some areas for improvement.

Published through Insight, an online tool from the SQA, the figures aid secondary schools and local authorities in identifying areas of success in education, and locating where improvements can be made.

As Senior Education Officer at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Agnes Macdonald, explains, the tool “supports teachers, principal teachers, and head teachers in their analysis of data for improvement.”

The four Local Benchmark figures released in September’s data include literacy and numeracy; improving attainment for all; attainment versus deprivation; and students’ initial post-school destinations. These figures take into account both SCQF levels – the “ladder” of all qualifications available in the Scottish education system – as well as tariff points, where the higher the qualification and grade, the higher the number of tariff points a student achieves.