National islands plan: annual report - 2020

The Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 requires that a report is presented to Parliament each year setting out the progress made towards delivery of the National Islands Plan. The National Islands Plan annual report 2020 is the first of these reports.


Strategic Objective 12 - To promote and improve education for all throughout life

We committed to work with UHI, the University of Aberdeen, Heriot-Watt University, Robert Gordon University and other education providers to ensure a broad range of options are available to young people.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) has developed an Islands Strategy, the main purpose of which is to articulate how UHI will work with partners to extend and strengthen its activities across Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. The UHI Islands Strategy consists of College Principals, local authority officers, CEOs, SDS, HIE and Scottish Government officials.

Through funding provided by the UHI Regional Strategic Body (RSB) colleges located on Scottish islands are supported to provide a range of education and training opportunities.

The four island colleges work collaboratively with UHI Executive Office to help deliver a broad range of further education (FE) and higher education (HE) programmes to the communities that they serve. All UHI colleges, of which there are 13 in total, meet regularly and work collaboratively. The RSB allocates funding to island colleges based on population and deprivation and the demand for the programmes that they deliver. Scottish Funding Council applies a funding formulae which takes into account individual college's geographical location and circumstances.

We committed to support UHI as it deepens collaboration with island partners to promote learner pathways, innovation and industry/employer engagement.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

As mentioned above, the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) has developed an Islands Strategy, collaborating with College Principals, local authority officers, CEOs, SDS, HIE and Scottish Government officials. This commitment also links to the Student Retention programme which provides pathways for people to remain on islands.

Through its broad range of networked and online higher education (HE) programmes, UHI enables residents of Scotland's dispersed island communities to access and benefit from studying a broad range of HE provision, whilst remaining residents within their communities. Often these programmes involve active contributions from local employers who are keen to support the development of a skilled and qualified workforce. HE provision extends from Higher National Certificate (HNC) provision up to PHD level of study.

Given the low number of residents within their communities, there are often more limited subject choice options for further education (FE) learners. This is because many FE programmes are vocational in nature and require craft skill development through appropriate workshop provision. (eg, construction, engineering, hair and beauty, hospitality etc.) This often has a bearing on the vocational subjects offered for study at island colleges.

We committed to ensure that young people are given the same opportunities to access education as young people on mainland Scotland.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

e-Sgoil continue to deliver a national e-learning programme, which provides a broad curriculum to children and young people across Scotland, and is primarily designed for island students.

The national e-learning offer, of which e-sgoil is part, was developed to support educationalists. It has shown how we can meet young people's aspirations for learning and career pathways in a more equitable way.

e-Sgoil's main purpose is to enhance equity for curricular and subject choice for all learners. This is irrespective of geographic location or the school they attend in Na h-Eileanan an lar. It also aims to address recruitment challenges in key subject areas. On receipt of funding from the Scottish Government and Bòrd na Gàidhlig, e-Sgoil's remit took on a national dimension as other local authorities were experiencing similar challenges with regard to Gaelic and STEM subjects in particular. The development of e-Sgoil has helped to drive forward the development of the Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN) to improve digital infrastructure and connectivity for island communities.

Through utilising digital tools and platforms, e-Sgoil has sought to enhance and enrich learners' experiences by looking to remove barriers restricting young people's choice. This includes designing and developing a variety of 3-18 programmes for learners, as well as for those who experience interrupted learning patterns.

Following a request from the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG) in August 2020, e-Sgoil developed a 3-18 offer for schools and educational centres to access as part of their remote learning plans. This included an after school Study Support programme for senior phase learners (via Glow) and a "Lockdown Live" series with open access (non-Glow) for primary and secondary learners, including hosting the Developing Young Workforce (DYW) live programme.

There follows some key features of e-Sgoil's provision.

Developing the Young Workforce - Live

e-Sgoil and Education Scotland work with a wide range of national partner organisations to create an exciting, virtual national learning offer for children and young people. This aims to develop career education and enhance learners' employability, career management and work-related skills. It enables island communities to experience inputs from a wider range of employers who may, for example, be based in mainland Scotland. From January 2021, this has given schools and centres a unique opportunity to build the entitlements from the Career Education Standard 3-18 into their curriculum planning.

Study Support

In September 2020, e-Sgoil designed and developed a national study support programme across a range of levels and subjects in the senior phase. This provision is free to access, held securely in the Glow platform, and has been delivered both within and out with the traditional school day. This support is live and interactive, and delivered online with specialist teachers supporting learners. This programme continues to expand and offers learners access to high-quality study support from their own homes, irrespective of geographical location.

Gaelic Language, Culture and Wider Achievement

e-Sgoil has also increased the proportion of learning through Gaelic that may be accessed by young people. For example, in music performance and participation, embracing local culture, whilst customised to the needs of individual island communities. This aspect of e-Sgoil's provision continues to grow.

Employment, Development and Industry

E-sgoil has increased employment opportunities and pathways. This includes teachers and technical, clerical and administration support. e-Sgoil offers flexible working arrangements in terms of time commitments and geographical location. This has potential benefits for our remote and island areas. This has resulted in ecological benefits given the reduction of travel, and educational benefits resulting from increased learner contact time.

e-Sgoil has, through Northern Alliance funding, increased their Senior Leadership Team to allow for more alignment between local authorities. The initiative has offered island communities the opportunity to no longer be seen as being on the periphery of Scotland. It has allowed the periphery to become a central hub of curriculum design and enactment, and digital innovation. All of Scotland's 32 local authorities have engaged with e-Sgoil in some form since its inception. This has brought indirect economic benefits with groups of people - from mainland Scotland and further afield - visiting the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to learn more about e-Sgoil.

We committed to work with young people across all Scottish islands to ensure that they are able to contribute to the implementation of the Plan from an education perspective and to ensure that their voices are present.

This commitment has been fulfilled.

Education Scotland has delivered professional learning within the Northern Alliance regional improvement collaborative to support staff in taking forward children's rights. These sessions provided an opportunity for practitioners to discuss through the medium of Gaelic and share practice from islands. The publication, How good is OUR school? provides a framework to encourage children and young people's involvement in improving their schools – which in this case was adapted for Gaelic use.

The Young Islanders Network Pilot project was launched 16 January 2021. The Project will provide the opportunity for island residents aged 5-25 to highlight the issues facing them, and develop a network that will help to address these.

We committed to continue to support and promote Gaelic medium education at all levels.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

Progress continues to be made with Gaelic medium education (GME) at all levels and new initiatives such as Comhairle nan Eilean Siar introducing a 'Gaelic First' enrolment process at Primary 1 to support the growth and success of GME, e-Sgoil's national online learning offer and Stòrlann Nàiseanta na Gàidhlig's resource development and online presence remain crucial to the longevity of the Gaelic language.

HM Inspectors provide independent evaluation of the quality of provision across education sectors. This evidence is used to promote improvement, provide advice and assurance to our stakeholders about standards, quality and improvement. In inspecting Gaelic Medium, we use specialist inspectors and associate assessors to give local-based evaluations to support improvement. In February 2020, we introduced a new Her Majesty's Chief Inspector's Report area on our website. This area has messages to support continuous improvement.

Education Scotland works in partnership to support the development of the curriculum and promote a shared understanding of high-quality immersion.

Education Scotland has revised their Corporate Plan to set out how they will lead and support the system during the 'recovery year'. Through this Education Scotland considers requested support targeted at school, community, local authority and regional level.

Education Scotland continues to support recovery of Gaelic Medium Education with the project Scotland Learns, through which our island learners benefit. This offers advice to practitioners and parents on supporting learning and immersion in Gaelic Medium Education as Scotland recovers from the pandemic. It also has a range of activities to support learning through the medium of Gaelic for children and young people's use at home, either self-supported, with a language buddy or as a family.

Education Scotland's national support enables dissemination and sharing of practice. Education Scotland hosted virtual conversations to discuss challenges and solutions for immersion and the curriculum as part of recovery education. This attracted a high level of interest and exchange with island educationalists. Practitioners and senior leaders continue this dialogue and support through an online collaborative network.

The publication, What Scotland Learned is a collection of inspiring stories detailing how practitioners and partners across Scotland responded during the COVID-19 crisis. It includes contributions from children and young people, adults, families and communities bespoke to the Gaelic sector living in island communities.

Education Scotland established a Northern Alliance working group for Gaelic to support collaborative improvement. At this, local authority officers with responsibility for Gaelic engage in discussion, share practice, build connections and collaborate on what is working well.

Education Scotland has held a public consultation on a draft Gaelic Language Plan, 2020 – 2025 (GLP). This is a five-year strategy on the development of Gaelic Education.

Education Scotland has worked with the Learning Directorate in implementing the Measaidhean Coitcheann Nàiseanta airson Foghlam Gàidhlig (MCNG) as part of the National Improvement Framework. Practitioners from the islands assist with quality assurance process. We also work with practitioners in Argyll and Bute Council to adapt Primary One Literacy Assessments to total immersion. We deliver moderation events to assist with teacher professional judgements of children and young people's progress and achievement in the 5-15 curriculum.

We committed to work with all island authorities to scope potential projects that could benefit from successive phases of the new £1 billion Learning Estate Investment Programme which runs until 2026.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

Phase 1 and Phase 2 awards of funding have been granted from the Learning Estate Investment Programme (LEIP), including two key projects in Castlebay on Barra and Broadford on Skye. In addition, there are projects across the islands which are being funded under the Early Learning and Childcare element of the LEIP.

There will be future phases of the LEIP announced up to 2026. The successful projects will be based on a case for change by the local authorities which address the Learning Estate Investment Strategy, core facts and local education and community needs. We will continue to support our island communities to ensure they benefit from the upcoming phases of the programme.

We committed to increase our collective efforts to improve the educational outcomes of children living in poverty by continuing to support island authorities/schools plans to raise attainment through Scottish Attainment Challenge programmes such as Pupil Equity Funding.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

Education Scotland has 32 permanent Attainment Advisors (AA) in place, ensuring every local authority has a dedicated link to the Scottish Attainment Challenge. Attainment Advisors provide a link and support to schools and centres to support improving educational outcomes.

Our Regional Improvement Teams had recorded over 5,000 professional practice engagements with Regional Improvement Collaboratives, local authorities, establishments, practitioners and other stakeholders between August and March 2019.

To support improvement and collaboration using an evidence-based approach, Education Scotland has produced 32 local authority data packs, bringing together a range of data to help inform discussions with local authorities on joint targeted support.

We have now published more than 30 sketch notes to showcase highly effective practice identified through inspection.

The Scottish Attainment Challenge produced impact reports to identify the difference that targeting Scottish Attainment Challenge funding on reducing the poverty-related attainment gap for local authorities and individual schools, and Pupil Equity Fund (PEF) for almost all schools in Scotland. This investment into education budgets was a welcome signal and recognition that to achieve more positive and equitable social and economic outcomes for Scotland, we need to invest in our children and young people. Across Scotland, closing the poverty-related attainment gap within the Broad General Education has continued to show a positive trend over the last 5 years. In some senior phase measures performance of pupils living in the 20% most deprived areas is improving at a faster rate than those in the 20% least deprived areas. (Education Five years on with the Scottish Attainment Challenge (SAC) funding and what has changed? - Education (

This improvement process has been supported through an Equity Audit, which deepened the understanding of the impact of the (Covid-19) pandemic and school closures on children and young people from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The experience of lockdown and the evidence in the Equity Audit point to the importance of access to technology (devices and connectivity) for children and young people in allowing them to access a high standard of remote learning. The Scottish Government are investing £25 million to support digital inclusion amongst school-aged children and in total they expect to benefit over 70,000 disadvantaged children and young people through the delivery of devices and connectivity solutions across Scotland. In addition, a further £45 million is being invested by the Scottish Government to assist families with remote learning and this funding can be used flexibly by local authorities to not just purchase additional digital devices but to recruit additional staff and provide wider family support throughout and following the current period of lockdown.

Since June 2020, Education Scotland has been playing a very significant role in leading coordination of the National e-Learning Offer (NeLO) and in working with partners in the design and development of the offer through the National e-Learning Partnership: Education Scotland, the Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES), e-Sgoil and Scottish Government. All partners are working together to deliver this single offer that builds coherently on what is already available from schools and local partners, the local authorities and the Regional Improvement Collaboratives. This offer is initially bringing together the live learning option from e-Sgoil, which has its base on the Isle of Lewis. E-Sgoil has been widening access to a range of programmes covering ages 3 to 18 since September 2020 to support the plans of classroom teachers across the country. This includes the offer of daily live, interactive sessions for learners in primary and secondary schools' lessons to young people having to work from home due to Coronavirus (Covid-19) and an after school study support programme for senior phase learners. From the start of the current period of remote learning beginning on 11 January, and until it ends, e-Sgoil will provide a daily Lockdown Live programme to support teachers, learners, and parents. Current figures show over 211,000 views for the Lockdown Live webinars. The programme includes an extension of the study support programme into the school day and an increase in the number of courses available. The current number of courses available is 66 (25 during the lockdown daytime provision and 41 in the evening provision). Registrations for all the Study Support webinars sit at just over 11,000 from over 4,000 learners.

We committed to consider the needs of adult learners in our island communities as we develop our adult learning strategy for Scotland.

Work is ongoing in relation to the commitment.

In early 2020, Scottish Government began working with its partners to develop a new Adult Learning Strategy for Scotland. As part of this process, an adult learning survey was published and attracted four thousand, four hundred and forty responses. These responses are currently being analysed. A series of consultation sessions also took place around Scotland in February and March with adult learners and adult learning practitioners (tutors, managers etc working in the public and third sectors). Although a session with island communities was organised for 16 March 2020, this was delayed due to Covid-19. This work was subsequently replaced by online consultations in January 2021 and learners from island communities were invited to join. Analysis of all consultations is underway and will help to inform an Island Communities Impact Assessment which will help shape the priorities in the national strategy.

Work in relation to this commitment has been delayed due to the impact of Covid-19.



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