Applications for a national awards scheme promoting digital technology in Scottish schools have “rocketed” during the pandemic.

According to Digital Schools Awards Scotland, a three-step programme to help schools recognise excellence in the use of digital at nursery, primary, special education and secondary level, the number of schools seeking accreditation in June is 500 per cent higher than the same month last year.

Additionally, the rate of schools signing up to the free scheme this year is 100 per cent higher than in 2019.

Anna Doody, project manager of Digital Schools Awards Scotland, said: “We are delighted with such an amazing response to the programme, which may be driven by a number of factors.

“The pandemic has placed enormous pressure on schools to adapt to new ways of teaching and learning. Schools have stepped up. Many welcomed steps to further embed digital teaching and learning into the curriculum. 

“In response to potentially significant changes in education practices in the future, more school leaders and teachers are using the Digital Schools Awards programme as a roadmap and support to guide them.  The programme also provides an important role to validate all of the great work that is being done.”

She added: “During the pandemic this opportunity to celebrate the achievements is particularly welcomed by the whole school community.”

Doody also believes there has been “a greater sense of urgency and focus on professional learning opportunities for teachers and school leaders over the past academic year”. 

This situation is not unique to Scotland. The programme, which is also available in Northern Ireland and Ireland – has seen a rise in levels of participation across all three nations.

To help raise awareness of the benefits of the programme, Digital Schools Awards Scotland worked alongside local authorities and awarded mentor schools to deliver a series of school webinars.

In June alone, over 30 Scottish schools were awarded by the scheme, joining 965 other schools across Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland which have achieved ‘digital school’ status, 40 of which also hold ‘cyber resilience and internet safety’ (CR-IS) recognition.

Digital Schools Awards Scotland’s CR-IS badge, which was unveiled by former minister for children and young people Maree Todd in 2019, has been designed to “provide education professionals with the resources and support required to help pupils safely navigate the digital world”. It is the “first” initiative of its kind in Scotland.

In September, the programme plans to enhance the cyber award to reflect “up-to-date thinking in education policy, particularly considering the increase in online and remote education as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Jane Keegan, a teacher at St Ninian’s Primary School in Livingston which was awarded recently, said: “Our validation has been a very positive way to end this school year. We found the entire process so helpful, easy to navigate and the visit itself was very positive. 

“The structure of the programme meant that we were able to evaluate and plan our next steps with confidence which has been a huge benefit to our school. We’ll be back next session for the CR-IS award.”

The Digital Schools Awards Scotland programme is supported by the technology industry, led by computer hardware company HP Inc and is part of the HP ‘sustainability global promise’ which aims enable better learning outcomes for 100 million people by 2025.

Other partners of the initiative include Intel, Microsoft, Education Scotland, Skills Development Scotland and Police Scotland.

The Digital Schools Awards is leading a consortium that includes ministries of education and education partners to pilot a new European award. The project, which is co-funded by the European Commission Erasmus+ programme, is running in five countries including Slovenia, Lithuania, Serbia, Ireland and Scotland with plans for a Europe-wide expansion within the next 12 months.