Sir Thomas Boteler Church of England High School, based in Warrington, is a progressive and forward thinking specialist music college. With the latest technology at its core, the school has an infrastructure to make many large FE colleges envious. An early adopter of Microsoft SharePoint from the 2003 iteration and next generation wireless coverage are just the tip of the iceberg – with many more industry-leading technologies spearheaded by the school’s management team.
With the backend infrastructure in great shape, the school was also early in identifying the role that ICT can play in aiding personalised learning in the classroom and beyond.
Systems Manager Simon Taylor-Jones explains: “We did all the hard work behind the scenes to gear the school up for technological change, so it seemed the logical step to embark on our first student laptop scheme.”
“For our first scheme we went with a consumer laptop brand which resulted in a multitude of problems from the word go. Poor workmanship, terrible customer service – we saw warranty and insurance returns of over 50%. It was completely unacceptable.”
As a result, the following year the school knew it needed a more specialist educational supplier. There were also other factors to consider for the next scheme. In the first scheme, there had been a great take up – over 72%. However, with the recession starting to bite, the school was conscious it needed to really engage with parents to provide cost effective but flexible choices.
Simon says: “I engaged with Stone as an alternative. We had some desktops in the school so I was aware of the business at a very high level. Although my experience hadn’t been too good, I was persuaded to give them a proper go. Ultimately it proved to be the perfect decision for us.”
The choice is theirs
The grand plan for the school’s ICT provision going forward was a parental contribution scheme that was built on inclusion and empowerment. A scheme that gave pupils and their families choice not only on the device, but on the platform. Sir Thomas Boteler School made the pioneering decision to offer a mix of Microsoft and Apple technology.
Young people at the school had an exciting decision to make, with a wide variety of options to meet differing e-Learning Foundation compliant parental contribution arrangements.
From a Stonebook Mini to an Apple iPad or iPod touch – all were made available with the necessary curriculum software and learning platform content so that pupils could choose based on how they wanted to learn. Those taking the Apple technology were supplied with a gift card to purchase the relevant software – Works Suite for the iPad and Documents To Go for the iPod touches.
The latest scheme was opened up to both Year 7 and Year 8. Simon explains: “We saw a good uptake from Year 7, with many Year 8s choosing to purchase their own device outside the scheme. We are a firm believer in giving pupils the best possible devices and associated services, but ultimately giving them the choice to use their own-home device if it already exists.”
In total, the school now runs 28 Stonebook Mini’s, 68 iPads and 24 iPod touches.
Big impact with pupils
For the Headteacher, John Sharples, the changes in the school were apparent from the very beginning: “On launch day, I remember seeing a pupil in the canteen at lunch presenting his device and its functions to 4 or 5 of his peers. I knew that we were on the right track towards widespread adoption.”
By empowering the pupils with a choice, Sir Thomas Boteler is now reaping the benefits. There has been more widespread adoption amongst the pupils, which starts with a simple to follow guide which is given out with each device.
With previous schemes, the school had suffered at the hands of a vicious circle. Simon explains: “I would challenge pupils that had a device but hadn’t brought them in to school. The answer I got back was ‘we don’t bring them in because the teachers don’t use them in lessons’.”
Sir Thomas Boteler has recognised that the success of the scheme is only as good as the pupils’ ability to connect. That is why it has opened up the internet to pupils with a next generation Wi-Fi network that offers safe guest access enabling learning that goes way beyond the traditional four walls of the classroom.
The battle with teacher adoption
The drive to ensure teachers embrace the technological changes in the classroom has been multi-faceted. All teachers at Sir Thomas Boteler now have a line in the job description specifying that they must use personal devices and integrate them with the VLE and wider teaching methods.
Training has also been recognised as an ongoing necessity to aid the adoption process. Simon says: “We host a Training Matrix on SharePoint, featuring a really quick and easy questionnaire that we can use to gauge how comfortable our individual teachers are with the technology. This means we can identify those individuals who need further support to bring about true personalised learning in our classrooms and ultimately improve the learning experience we provide to our pupils.”
Stone quality & support
With previous schemes providing over 50% return rates on hardware, Stone’s @ccessAbility has managed to provide a much more robust and durable hardware choice.
Simon elaborates: “We have only had to return one Stonebook, and that was because one of our pupils cracked the screen. Obviously this was covered off by insurance so it was simple to swap out.
“For me Stone’s true value lies not only in its hardware, but in its service, support and ability to offer a full solution with a single point of contact. Everyone from the account management team to the service and support engineers offer a truly first-class service. @ccessAbility from Stone gives us everything that a school needs to enable personalised learning through the effective use of ICT.
“Plus, the fact that Stone has a dedicated in-house Payment Solutions Manager means we get the independent leasing advice relative to our individual needs. It has proved an invaluable service.”