Provision of learning and teaching is a matter for individual local authorities, which are responsible for ensuring that relevant parties are consulted and that the quality of learning and teaching is maintained.
As a key component of the national e-learning offer, e-Sgoil, supported by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, has been invaluable during the pandemic in supporting continued access to learning and teaching in the most challenging of circumstances. As we return to more normal times, councils will wish to reflect on the lessons to be learned from online teaching and, in particular, where online learning can support subject choice and enrich and vary learner experiences.
Concerns have been raised in the Western Isles that the policy might mean that junior classes will simply have an adult present in the classroom and that senior classes will be left unsupervised while remote learning occurs. The Educational Institute of Scotland described it as
“an absolute disregard for statutory responsibilities and duties towards pupils as well as a serious undermining of the role of professional, registered teachers.”
Does the Scottish Government acknowledge those concerns, and does the cabinet secretary agree that face-to-face teaching must be the priority? Where a teacher is available, they should be teaching in person rather than online.
I thank Donald Cameron for raising the issue. In many ways, it ties in with some of the answers that I gave to Fulton MacGregor about how important it is that, when changes are made to the way in which education is delivered, that is done in a collaborative way with parents, young people and staff. Donald Cameron mentioned, in particular, the EIS local branch, and I am clear on the views of the EIS, locally.
As I said in my original answer, it is a matter for individual local authorities, but I stress the importance of all councils listening to young people, parents and staff and discussing the pros and cons of change. If it can be done in a collaborative way, that is the way in which it should be done.
Having a teacher in place while pupils are being taught, albeit remotely, means that the wellbeing of pupils is looked after. Indeed, if pupils have queries, it is really important that they have a suitably qualified teacher there with them. Will the cabinet secretary look at the issue again to ensure that every pupil is properly supported locally, as well as being able to take advantage of courses that are taught from elsewhere?
Again, I stress that this is a matter for the councils. I recognise the important concerns that have been raised today, particularly on behalf of staff. The council has stated that the aim of its plan is to provide secondary pupils from small secondary schools with access to a greater range of subjects by sharing classes that are taught in other schools. It has been highlighted that that will enable teachers to continue to live in smaller communities while, at the same time, reaching a wider audience of pupils. The background is that the council is looking at the issue, but that should be done in collaboration with young people, parents and staff. It is, as I have said, the responsibility of the council.