FOUR years ago Western Isles Council was in difficult straits trying to teach maths to pupils on the Isle of Barra because, despite national and
international adverts, they couldn’t find a mathematics teacher for love nor money.

They ended up teaching the class through a clunky Skype system and managed to get the pupils through their exams, but director of education Bernard Chisholm thought that, if it had worked in this limited way, a larger scale pilot project should be set up, looking at a range of subjects which were proving difficult to staff to enhance
subject choice for pupils in smaller schools.

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He approached the Scottish Government and Bòrd na Gàidhlig for grant funding and set up a pilot project for our digital school, essentially with
two people and two computers.

That was how e-Sgoil came into being. The initial plan was to service
demand in the Western Isles, but this soon changed as we were
encouraged to provide a service for pupils further afield where
there was a need for digital learning through the use of our video conferencing facilities.

Our first request came from Aberdeen City and this was to keep Gaelic classes going.

Without remote teaching, the pupils would have had to drop out of their SQA courses.

We employed a teacher and, between us, developed an online, real time, interactive style of teaching which worked very well with that group of pupils.

Since then we have built on this style of teaching and expanded to include 17 local authorities throughout Scotland.

We have taught a range of subjects including modern studies, chemistry, physics, English, biology, Gaelic, Spanish, mathematics, music and German at various levels from the early years of secondary right through to Advanced Higher.

The main driver in terms of this taking off in the Western Isles was the desire for equity of provision. Since the inception of e-Sgoil, pupils in small rural schools are now able to access subjects such as Higher Psychology that have not been available to them through
interactive teaching in the past.

But e-Sgoil is not just for schools in rural settings. In addition to Aberdeen, we have schools in semi-urban areas asking us to teach courses because teacher shortages are not just confined to remote

We are now teaching over 500 pupils across Scotland. While we would never claim that this option is any better than having a teacher in front of a classroom, we would contend that having a good teacher delivering a lesson in this way can be as engaging as having someone in class.

This is not about replacing teachers but about utilising teachers
effectively, either in class or to teach remotely. This is not a
cheap option. This is about real-time, interactive teaching, using highly-skilled people to give pupils a quality experience.

At a time when we are facing teacher shortages, the e-Sgoil approach gives pupils the opportunity to learn subjects of their choice from specialist teachers.

Angus Maclennan is headteacher of e-Sgoil