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How we did it

Charity begins at home for a Buckinghamshire secondary - and it's giving children access to laptops. Ross Cotter explains

Our students' access to new technology used to be limited. We had two computer rooms with 60 computers, and no laptop technology.

In May 2001, I produced a feasibility study on how much it would cost to equip every member of staff with a laptop, and to network the school. We have 60 staff so it was a massive undertaking and needed a lot of negotiation. The laptops were leased and we introduced electronic registration, costing pound;70,000.

Funding came through various channels. Our headteacher, David Selman, raised as much as he could to enable us get the initial lease payment.

Then we launched the Misbourne e-Learning Foundation - a charity to raise gift aid donations. This has enabled us to provide laptops for pupils. I started with the premise that a laptop, although expensive, was an educational tool, like a book. You would lend pupils a book to take home to do their homework - why not a laptop?

The middle of Buckinghamshire has few large businesses or service industries, so the idea of building partnerships with local industry to access funds was a non-starter. The only way we could do it was through donations. The idea received a mixed response from parents. There was concern about how many laptops the school would have, the security of taking them home, even about how heavy they were and could their Year 7 daughter carry one?

Generally, people were supportive - about 100 joined the scheme at its launch. Each made a covenant, or gift aid, with us for a particular sum per month over three years.

Now we have 220 laptops just for the kids. In school, it allows them to go on the internet, through the wireless network, and to access programmes the staff are using. Teachers can book 15 laptops, take them to class and access the internet or intranet. And children can borrow them for a weekend to do their work.

We have a good tracking system. The laptops are kept in a secure network room. And we were careful about the warranty and insurance arrangements. We probably get a laptop a week coming back with some damage. But we have an arrangement with the suppliers - they're shipped off, repaired and shipped back again.

The students' access to laptops has enabled them to use the technology much more effectively. They have become more confident, work faster and produce more for their teachers. The system works well, and it's important for those students who don't have that sort of technology at home.

Ross Cotter is deputy head at Misbourne school in Buckinghamshire. He was talking to Martin Whittaker. Do you have a success story to share? Email susan.young@newsint.co.uk

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