GIVEN the geography of the Western Isles, local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has long had to come up with innovative solutions to ensure all its children have equal access to education.

In 2016 it founded digital-learning resource e-sgoil to help achieve its goals, with the online teaching service now playing a key role in ensuring children can continue to learn musical instruments in the face of ongoing budgetary constraints.

E-sgoil headteacher Angus Maclennan said the school was “founded on the premise that every child in the Western Isles deserves equity of opportunity”, which he said means giving everyone access to as wide a range of classes as possible.

“We take a holistic view to education and music is as important as maths or physics because it makes a real difference to pupils’ mental health and wellbeing,” he said.

Music development officer Rhona Johnstone, who teaches woodwind and violin on the islands, said the e-sgoil approach enables music teachers to be more efficient because it cuts down the amount of time they have to spend travelling between schools.

“We have 22 schools on Lewis and the primary schools are pretty spread out,” she said. “Rather than having the instructors go to every school every week, when they would be losing a lot of teaching time, we deliver some lessons via video conferencing.”

Children get a face-to-face lesson on the weeks the teacher is based in their school, with their lesson conducted by video link for a maximum of three weeks in between.

“At the moment we have two instructors who are using it and there’s definitely scope for it to be expanded,” Ms Johnstone said. “It works really well and the kids really engage with it.”

Both Mr Maclennan and Ms Johnstone admit the system is not perfect – delays in transmission mean it is not possible for teachers to play along with their pupils while children learning stringed instruments can have difficulty tuning their strings.

However, they said it is a preferable option to introducing fees (with the exception of strings, music lessons are currently free of charge in the Western Isles) or cutting provision, and it also helps to reduce teachers’ carbon footprint.

“It’s not a panacea by any means, but it is a very useful tool,” Mr Maclennan said. “It’s very difficult to argue against."