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Management secondary

Richard Wallace is vice-principal at Ballyclare High School, a selective school of over 1,200 students in in Antrim, Northern Ireland. Mr Wallace has taught at Ballyclare for 31 years, and he has the unassuming but quietly confident manner that speaks of great experience.

A maths teacher for most of his career, he's always been looking at how computers can contribute to teaching and learning - he was teaching O-Level computer studies as long ago as 1974. "We had to send punched cards away on the bus to Londonderry," he recalls.

Unsurprisingly, the school gained a pioneering reputation. Early innovators, though, pay a price. "We were always the first to invest in new equipment, but if you buy one of the first then it costs you a fortune and before you know where you are it's outdated," Richard says.

Throughout the Nineties, the school had a large number of computers of different kinds, bought for earlier requirements, and Richard decided that piecemeal replacement had gone far enough. The way forward, he believed, was to spend a lot of money on what was effectively a new start. As a result, by 1999 the school had a leased network, from ICL, of 108 desktop machines, a fileserver, 8 laser printers, 10 inkjets, scanners and a CD server. Add on things like cabling and benching and the school was committed to spending pound;250,000 over three years. Additional school spending since 1999 has brought the number of machines up to a 140. There are also about 50 laptops available for staff and students.

Many teachers will wonder how an ICT enthusiast gets senior management to spend that sort of money, and a number of factors were at work at Ballyclare.

First, Richard has huge credibility - he's known as an educational ICT expert far beyond his own school, as an examiner and a consultant. People have been beating a path to his door for many years.

Second, the successive heads of Ballyclare have been receptive to Richard's vision. "Three heads have been encouraging and supportive and have trusted me," he says. "The network represented the cost of three or four teachers a year for three years, but I think the head had fewer sleepless nights about it than I had."

Most importantly, perhaps, Richard has always looked at ICT in terms of what it will do for learning, either directly or through more efficient use of staff time. This attitude was reflected in his approach to ICL when he talked to them about the new network. "I didn't say I wanted 100 machines. If you do that, then that's all you get. I told them what I wanted to do - I wanted to change learning styles. I asked for Web space, email addresses, a CD server. I wanted them to sort out all the licences and I also wanted some support in school. They came back with what was needed to do it all."

Perhaps the most important benefit from the network has been the the way it has encouraged students and staff to share information and collaborate. Crucially, CLASS (an information management system for Northern Ireland's schools equivalent to SIMS) is available to teachers on any terminal across the whole school. The school's intranet also has a wealth of shared information - all school policies, letters, timetables etc are available for consultation and comment, as well as a large amount of curriculum material. "Staff now think intranet," says Richard.

However, he feels that the biggest achievement has been the way that the culture has changed. "We have a different attitude to learning now. It's because of the openness that ICT has brought to the school. There's sharing of resources, collaboration and a willingness to let our pupils teach us," he says.

Gerald Haigh

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