Good quality education is a key driver for socio-economic development, not only on islands. Families will often make decisions about where to live based on the presence of good schools. Islanders told us that having a thriving and successful school contributes to an island and its community in multiple ways, from adding teachers and school workers to the island population to using schools as a hub of community extra curricula activities.
While the above applies to primary schools, clearly not every island can have a secondary school. However, where present, secondary schools on islands should be equipped and geared to prepare island-based pupils in the same way as on the mainland. Island students need to be put on an equal footing with their mainland and urban counterparts. Another critical aspect is residential accommodation (sometimes called hostels) and transport to schools for students based on other smaller islands who have to stay away from home during term time.
Through the Developing the Young Workforce programme, we continue to strengthen links between school, college and industry to develop senior phase curriculum choices that link study to local employment. This includes developing the senior phase curriculum to have the right balance of vocational skills, including Foundation Apprenticeship opportunities aligned to progression routes that are better informed by local skills needs. This work has led to collaboration across schools and colleges to enhance the number of options available to young people, particularly in areas where geographic barriers exist.
Gaelic medium education is proving to be popular and successful with parents and it makes a key contribution to the Scottish Government’s aim of increasing the numbers of people learning, using and speaking Gaelic. It is vital, in islands where Gaelic is spoken, that Gaelic medium education is promoted and supported in line with the Guidance on Gaelic Education and that opportunities are made available for young people to have opportunities to use Gaelic out of school in other activities. Key educational agencies need to be aware of the particular needs of Gaelic education and take steps to support teachers of Gaelic in island communities.
Education on islands does not finish with primary and secondary schools. People on islands should have access to higher education options. Higher education should also further promote skills training, especially those related to socio-economic opportunities on the island. Finally, education should also pay attention to life-long learning, both in terms of CPD (Continuing Professional Development) and classes and courses for older people. Some schools and institutions are already working towards how to facilitate distance learning for students who live remotely. Against this background, the Plan and its implementation will build on and align, where possible, with relevant Scottish Government education and skills policy.
We are also continuing to invest in good quality, modern and state of the art learning environments through the Scottish Government’s existing school building programme, Scotland’s Schools for the Future. So far, we have invested almost £195 million towards the construction or refurbishment of 18 new school projects in the six local authorities within Islands.
In spite of the good work of the Scotland’s Schools for the Future Programme, there is still more to do. On 9 September, the First Minister, Deputy First Minister and CoSLA Spokesperson for Resources, Cllr Gail MacGregor announced the first phase of projects to benefit from the new £1 billion Learning Estate Investment Programme, this includes the innovative Castlebay Campus project on Barra.
We are investing £750 million during this Parliament to tackle the attainment gap and ensure every child has an equal chance to succeed. As announced in our 2019-20 Programme for Government as an early commitment on this Government’s top priority, we will continue funding for the Scottish Attainment Challenge, including Pupil Equity Funding, beyond the end of this Parliamentary term and extend funding at current levels for a further year into 2021-22. We will continue to support LAs and schools within the Islands around the four key National Improvement Framework priorities – raising attainment for all, closing the attainment gap, improving young people’s health and wellbeing, and improving employability skills and positive, sustained destinations for all young people.
Strategic Objective 12
To promote and improve education
In order to promote and improve education on the islands Scottish Government, in collaboration with government agencies and other relevant stakeholders, will:
- Work with UHI, the University of Aberdeen, and other education providers to ensure a broad range of options are available to young people;
- Support UHI as it deepens collaboration with island partners to promote learner pathways, innovation and industry/employer engagement;
- Ensure that young people are given the same opportunities to access education as young people on mainland Scotland;
- 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;
- Continue to support and promote Gaelic medium education at all levels in islands where Gaelic is spoken;
- We will 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; and
- We will 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.