Virtual school initiative gains national recognition

Three colleges in the University of the Highlands and Islands partnership have been recognised with a national award for their use of technology to deliver courses to secondary school pupils in remote and rural areas across the Highland Council region.

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Virtual Schools map

West Highland College UHI, North Highland College UHI and Inverness College UHI were named winners of the ‘Outstanding Use of Technology in Delivering Remote Teaching and Learning’ Award at the ‘Tes FE Awards’ on Friday 28 May 2021.

The awards celebrate outstanding individuals, teams and institutions in the further education sector across the UK.

The winning ‘Virtual School’ programme provides secondary school pupils from S4 to S6 across 29 schools in the Highland Council region access to a range of courses regardless of their location.

Previously, senior phase pupils only had the option to travel to one of the West Highland College UHI, North Highland College UHI or Inverness College UHI campuses to access college courses face to face, meaning lengthy commutes for some pupils.

Working with Highland Council, the three colleges developed ‘Virtual School,’ which builds upon the Council’s Highland Virtual Academy initiative, allowing pupils to attend classes remotely using online learning technologies, providing an accessible curriculum to those pupils living in remote and rural regions.

‘Virtual School’ complements the colleges’ successful senior phase programme, which enables senior secondary school pupils to choose a college course to study one day, or across the week as part of their options choices in S4, S5 and S6.

This provides pupils with access to programmes, including National 5s, Highers, Advanced Highers, Degree Modules, Skills for Work programmes, Foundation Apprenticeships, National Progression Awards and Professional Development Awards, that aren’t available in their secondary school. Subjects available to secondary school pupils are showcased via the Highland Senior Phase website.

Professor Todd Walker, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Highlands and Islands, said:

“This is the sort of initiative that shows our university partnership at its best. Colleagues at West Highland College UHI, North Highland College UHI and Inverness College UHI have developed this initiative to give school students across the Highlands wider access to a range of courses.

“It is well deserved and nationally recognised praise for staff who are dedicated in supporting our students to study in their communities and have worked tirelessly and creatively to help them continue with their studies throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Councillor John Finlayson, Chair of The Highland Council’s Education Committee said: “On behalf of The Highland Council, I would like to congratulate West Highland College UHI, North Highland College UHI and Inverness College UHI on the great achievement of winning the national award.

“It is fantastic that our partnership working with the three colleges and our Highland Virtual Academy provision has helped to support the delivery of remote teaching and learning to senior phase pupils in Highland. This award is very well deserved and is a testament to the hard work and the outstanding use of technology of those involved in this programme of work”. 

Lindsay Snodgrass, Assistant Principal - Student Experience and Quality at Inverness College UHI, said: “Using our expertise in remote learning technologies, the ‘Virtual School’ offer recognises the needs of our communities and the rurality of the Highland Council region by ensuring our offer for S4, S5 and S6 pupils is as accessible as it can be so nobody is disadvantaged because of where they live.

“Working collaboratively with our partners and Highland Council, we are delighted to have been recognised for this initiative with a national award.”

Bob Harrison, Tes FE Awards 2021 lead judge, said:

“West Highland College UHI, North Highland College UHI and Inverness College UHI’s Virtual School model is a perfect example of collaboration and cooperation between FE providers in the Scottish Highlands, using technology to engage and empower learners remotely.”