Guest post by Gerald Haigh

It was really good to be at Shireland Collegiate Academy for the UK launch of Microsoft’s Shape the Future project earlier in November. Katie Hook has already very efficiently described the event here, but that gives me the opportunity to say a little about what was happening in the classrooms leading off the main hall.

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In one, for example, a teacher was demonstrating Microsoft ‘Pivot’, for data analysis, in another, students were showing cross-curricular project work with ‘One Note’ and in yet another, students and family members were using the family portal.

Just now, though, I want to home in particularly on a room which had been taken over by a year six class from a Shireland partner school, Victoria Park Primary Academy, where ‘Shape the Future’ is having a very visible effect. There, with their head teacher Andrew Morrish, the children were using their RM Minibooks, bought under the Shape the Future scheme, which has made one-to-one computing affordable for the 120 children in years five and six at Victoria Park. The children were clearly excited at being at the event and keen to show their minibooks off to visitors.

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This was obviously something to follow up, and so I arranged to speak to Andrew in his school a little later, when things had calmed down a bit. Victoria Park, like Shireland, is in a richly multi-ethnic, multi-lingual area, with a very high level of deprivation, and the children need great commitment, skill and devotion from their teachers if they are to reach their considerable potential. As we chatted I learned that Andrew took over Victoria Park seven years ago. Then, it was in Ofsted ‘Special Measures’. Since then it has significantly been turned around and was designated ‘Outstanding’ at the last inspection.

‘It’s been achieved primarily by putting the children at the centre, as independent learners, and the role of ICT in that has been key,’ says Andrew. ‘But we were never able to afford a one-to-one ratio, so when ‘Shape the Future’ came along we jumped at the chance.’ The children use a range of software, including ‘OneNote’, ‘Songsmith’, ‘Kodu’ ‘Publisher’ and the Office suite of which ‘PowerPoint’ is a favourite. ‘They love PowerPoint,’ says Andrew. ‘They’re very confident with it, and use it a lot, and I’m keen to develop Kodu for programming and storyboarding apps.’ ‘OneNote’ , he says, is particularly useful for the cross-curricular projects that make up much of the classroom work in humanities and arts subjects. ‘They used to record everything first in one book, then produce a really lovely best book. OneNote has replaced all that they can put it all together and include multi-media clips.’

One often overlooked advantage of equipping all children with technology is that it irons out some of the inequalities around homework. Children in the same class can have very different experiences of homework. Some will have a quiet room, with a computer and parents ready to support them. Others will be trying to find a space to work in the middle of a busy family life, with parents who feel unable to help. Helping parents to have confidence is part of the answer, and that’s been very successful at Shireland and at Victoria Park.

Where each child has a personal device, though, a lot of the other inequalities fade away. ‘They don’t need a table and a chair, they can sit at the bottom of the stairs, anywhere. It helps the parents, too, because children don’t need to ask for help, they can sort things out for themselves by trial and error in a way you can’t do with a worksheet that’s either right or wrong.’ One of the knock-on effects of providing devices for years five and six is that the netbooks that were previously used in those years have been passed to years three and four. ‘There’s not enough for one-to-one, and they can’t take them home, but it quadruples the provision in those years, and as a result the whole of Key Stage Two is very ICT rich.’ That raises the question for Andrew of how far you go down the age range with one-to-one. ‘Do you reach a point where it’s not the best use of your budget? That’s something for us to think about.’

It’s still early days for the one-to-one project at Victoria Park – year six had their devices in mid September, year five in mid-November – so there won’t be anything to report for some time in terms of measured outcomes. There are visible effects on motivation and engagement, though, and there’s every expectation that attainment will follow.

Meanwhile, the children are taking to their minibooks with zest and enthusiasm. ‘They’re fiercely proud of them,’ says Andrew. ‘And they were quick to personalise them with screensavers and wallpaper.’ The only small worry he has is that they don’t come with a safe carrying case. ‘I don’t like the idea of the children openly carrying them home on dark nights, but perhaps RM will come up with an answer to that.’ How could they not? I ask myself.