Western Isles

Created on: 05 Apr 2022 | Last modified: 29 Jun 2022

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar / Western Islands Council is trying to use the pre-election period to implement sweeping changes to the learning and teaching practices in the authority’s secondary schools without consulting staff, parents or pupils, asserts the EIS.

A letter is circulating addressed to parents/carers of pupils in secondary schools, authored by the Director of Education, Skills and Children’s Services, Willie MacDonald, dated 28th March 2022 which outlines that pupils in S4-S6 will receive a subject option form which ‘gives pupils the opportunity to study a wider range of subjects’ by harmonising the choice forms and timetables across all four secondary schools. The letter goes on to assert that small class sizes are not financially sustainable and to claim, that ‘pupils will benefit from digital and hybrid models of learning’.  

A FAQ which accompanies the letter claims that ‘an adult’, not necessarily a teacher, would be present in the room whilst classes are taught online. This is entirely contrary to the position which the EIS believed had been agreed with remote learning platform provider, e-Sgoil, locally.

EIS Local Association Secretary, Karen Graham, said, “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. The Comhairle claims that Parent Council Chairs are supportive of the proposals but we understand Parent Council Chairs haven’t even been presented with the full proposals! The slack of consultation is disgraceful.”

Karen Graham added, “Year on year we are told that our schools are ‘overstaffed’, which is why we have so many fixed-term staff regardless of their years of service. We are told voluntary redundancy is always open to teachers. Now we are being told there is not the appropriate breadth of subjects on offer. 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.”

She concluded, “We want the Comhairle to use appropriate consultation and negotiation forums in order that we get the best outcome for our learners – not the cheapest.”

EIS General Secretary, Larry Flanagan, commented further, saying, “This letter and FAQ shows a lack of understanding of the role of teachers, appropriate pedagogy, and the education authority’s statutory duties and responsibilities to pupils and seems to have missed the key learning point from the pandemic about the critical relationship between teacher and students. The proposals run counter to the Empowered Schools agenda by removing autonomy from smaller secondary schools.”

Mr Flanagan continued, “Furthermore, 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. The EIS represents the overwhelming majority of teaching staff across the Western Isles. Did the authority think we wouldn’t notice them diverting funds to remote learning and minimising the role of the professional, registered teacher?”

The EIS Local Association is calling for transparency and genuine consultation from the Council. The EIS will continue speaking to members about these proposals and may seek to ballot members for industrial action if necessary.