2012, Mantis Checking Out Tech At College Town Junior School
We’re just back from a visit to College Town Junior School in Berkshire; it’s on the outskirts of Sandhurst and the Royal Military Academy. Apart from being the stomping ground of our managing director in his [very young] days, the school also happens to employ his mum “Mrs Loader” who has responsibility for management of the school’s ICT.
We like to undertake regular visits to public sector organisations like this to ensure we are maintaining our knowledge of their issues and concerns. We then translate what we have learnt into the work and consultancy that we provide to our clients.
- Traditional teaching methods are still at the forefront in the classroom
- ICT is omnipresent but complements existing teaching methods not revolutionising or enforcing change
- The simplest technology is often the most exciting, ‘visualisers’ are becoming more prevalent around the school
- The views of children are very much included in the buying process, particularly for educational learning software
- RM desktop PCs, printer plus old and new projection kit in the ICT room
- Mainly Toshiba laptops and interactive whiteboards in each classroom
- Desktop PCs are being moved from classrooms to the ICT room providing additional teaching space; extra computers are to be put in the ICT room after refit
- A projector refresh programme is in operation [to provide wall mounted projectors which do not ‘shine lights’ into the eyes]
- One local printer is available per year group, in addition to a link to the ICT suite and the photocopier, which is used for larger amounts of printing
- Wireless is not in use at present
Mrs Loader gave us a tour of the school. Tesco ‘schools vouchers’ provides two of the PCs in the College Town Junior School ICT room – from a fleet of 18 – but the school purchased the remaining directly. Standards are high. Mrs Loader says: “We do appreciate offers of donated equipment, but it is not often to the standard that the school requires for teaching. There is an extra cost for PAT testing of donated equipment so it doesn’t make economic sense to accept old equipment for it to be tested then to break down shortly afterwards.”
All of the PC hardware comes with a one-year warranty; extended three year warranties are at an extra cost. RM builds all of the 18 desktop PCs in the room, although we spotted a couple of LG monitors (which came as part of the computer package).
Mrs Loader adds: “The school has a set budget to cover laptops, projectors, etc. for our rolling refresh programme. I research and then suggest prices for the equipment, and the Head Teacher and admin support also have an idea of appropriate pricing. The school also has a ‘wish list’ of equipment, which for the Head Teacher currently includes WiFi.”
Wireless networking may not actually happen due to the structure and design of the building. It is classic 1960’s shell with metal lined, internal window frames, thick walls and a complex layout. “We did have a man come to the school once to scope out wireless, but the school design meant multiple base units would be needed and they would cost extra.”
Mrs Loader is the purchasing gatekeeper. One supplier wanted her to review a digital ‘dictionary’ but she wasn’t overly impressed. Software from Education City and 2Simple Software has made the grade though and she recommends it.
Printing still seems to consume a large proportion of the budget. Mrs Loader estimates the printer in the ICT room has used up nearly £800 of cartridges since September 2011, the teaching team prefer to print in colour. The current printer costs 50 per pence per sheet, which pushes up total cost. By contrast, the photocopier costs just 5p per sheet.
Laptops and projectors are the second and third most expensive items.
The school is working through a programme of replacing existing projectors with slightly more robust units, which also have the added benefit of not shining light into people’s eyes.
Children can’t access the Internet in the ICT room without an adult.
“We have a list of rules for using the room which is printed on the room wall. The school is protected by blocking software from RM and antivirus from Norton.”
Mrs Loader adds. We also notice an impromptu message on the whiteboard to remind children about [not] accessing the internet alone.
The Library contains an electronic whiteboard with digital pens, projector and a visualizer. It’s a clever ‘swan looking’ tool that scans and projects any document onto a whiteboard, which is then available for editing by the whole class.
Mrs Loader comments: “I can see these being available in all classrooms in the future, they are small, relatively cheap at £100 and everyone seems to like using them.”
Laptops are available for use by teaching staff. Currently all laptop hardware is built by Toshiba, other makes have been trialed unsuccessfully in the past. Robust, sturdy kit and avoiding repairs [and cost] seems to be the preference here. The laptops can be taken home and are used for lesson planning, marking, etc.
The classroom that we visited contained a printer, but that was for use by the whole year group. Digital whiteboard, new projector and a visualizer were also present.
For the future
The School is looking to purchase Amazon Kindle e-readers to support a pupil with visual impairment and to generate a greater interest in reading by some reluctant readers. Initially, it will purchase about 7 Kindles in total. The Head Teacher has also requested funding for ten Apple iPads, supporting TV screen and training.
Technology and teaching
The impact of IT on teaching is interesting. The ICT room had some great displays of work by children, which demonstrate their ability to create work using a PC, change fonts, colours, etc. Mrs Loader likes to discourage use of spell check in written work. All children have different abilities, as you would imagine, but she notes that one child has exceptional keyboard skills.
She did suggest that children could submit homework that is written by hand or created on the PC; it is the content not the medium that is being reviewed. Nonetheless, once in the classroom, it was pretty apparent that traditional teaching methods are still very much at the forefront. Children were moving around with pens, paper, rulers; the technology was visible but complements existing teaching methods not revolutionising or enforcing change.