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Union blasts Western Isles Council over remote learning scheme, threatens industrial action

EIS claims that allowing remote learning without a teacher present minimises the importance of teachers in the classroom. Shutterstock ID 1662454036
EIS claims that allowing remote learning without a teacher present minimises the importance of teachers in the classroom. Shutterstock ID 1662454036

Union leaders have warned child safety is at risk in a row over online learning in the Western Isles.

The union accused the local council of trying to institute “sweeping changes” without fully consulting teachers.

Western Isles Council has revealed a plan to offer certain specialist subjects remotely across the islands’ four secondary schools at the same time.

Remote learners on campus would be supervised by an adult – but not necessarily a teacher.

The local EIS secretary said that this minimises the role of teachers and creates child safety concerns.

Union representatives also accused the council of using the pre-election period to “slip out” these changes without consultation.

They warned about possible industrial action over the new policy.

Council Leader Roddie Mackay said that the council discussed the plans publicly and dismissed references to the election as ‘irrelevant.’

What is a ‘harmonised’ timetable?

In a letter to parents on March 28, the council’s education director William Macdonald outlined the new remote learning plan.

He called it ‘harmonising’ timetables. He said that it should give students at small schools more course choices through digital classes.

A council spokesman said senior pupils at some schools in the Western Isles are already working under this scheme.

By offering courses on multiple campuses at the same time, students at different schools can form larger virtual classrooms.

This way, students at smaller schools with otherwise ‘not viable’ class sizes will have more options, he said.

Students will have access to more courses by linking up with students at other schools remotely. Photo: Shutterstock 

“Harmonising will provide all pupils, but especially those in the smaller schools, with access to a broader range of subjects, more in line with their needs, aspirations and interests.

“As in other EAs, small classes of 1 or 2 are not considered viable. Through collaboration and digital lesson delivery, such small classes may be grouped with those in other schools to make a viable class.”

EIS condemns Western Isles remote learning plans

EIS local association secretary Karen Graham said that equity is a valid goal – but it shouldn’t mean removing teachers from the classroom.

“Our members want to ensure there is an equitable choice on offer for all of our pupils. That doesn’t mean their option should be digital learning, being left in a room without a registered teacher.

“Locally we have not been consulted on these proposals at all, despite the fact they seek to alter our members’ terms and conditions including workplace location.

“We have serious health and safety and child protection concerns about these proposals.”

Remote learning as a path to independence?

In an FAQ document accompanying the March 28 letter, the council said that “an adult”, not necessarily a teacher, would be in the room to supervise learning.

It added that teachers will be present to lead experiments and practical lessons.

But the document also made it clear that the council wants students in the Western Isles to become more independent through remote learning.

“Given that many senior phase pupils are old enough to get married, vote, drive etc, being able to engage in remote learning within the safe confines of a school is a skill and
discipline which should not be beyond them.”

Council denies they ‘slipped out’ changes during pre-election period

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said that the council was trying to pass these changes quietly.

“I am gravely concerned that the authority did not think to speak to our local association about these proposals.

“Proposals should be subject to consultation and negotiation, in line with the national Fair Work agenda – not slipped out in a pre-election period.”

Comhairle leader Roddie Mackay, who defended the Western Isles new remote learning policy
Comhairle leader Roddie Mackay.

In response, Comhairle leader Roddie Mackay, said the council discussed the changes and agreed to them publicly.

“To suggest otherwise and to bring up the election is irrelevant.”

A council spokesman said that they consulted headteachers and parent councils at the four secondary schools.

But he also said there has not been a wider consultation yet.

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