The best use of technology is when someone realises it's essential. Jackie Story realised that as soon as she took over the school on Sanday, one of the Orkney islands. Sanday is one of the remotest communities in the UK - 500 people with 85 children in the school.
Not Orcadian by birth but by conviction, Jacky Story started at the school in 1997 after experience in an Edinburgh comprehensive. Before that she ran an outdoor centre. So why choose Sanday? "I feel passionately about rural education as I think we have a way of life and a way of bringing up children that should be the envy of the rest of BritainI A school closed recently on Egilsay because there weren't enough kids. We have to show people that there are opportunities to come here to set up a business and to thrive. Technology is the way forward to enable that."
Jacky immediately saw one problem was a restricted curriculum. A staff of seven full-time teachers with their best endeavours can only do so much. Teachers are flown in but, during the winter, planes could not always fly and until recently Sanday had a grass landing strip which used to flood.
From the age of 14 the children of Sanday have the choice to transfer to Kirkwall Grammar School and board there. Jacky's aim is to retain more pupils on the island. To achieve this she had to enrich the curriculum so there was no need for children to leave the island purely on the grounds of subject availability. Video-conferencing supported by Orkney Enterprise and Orkney College seemed a way forward.
None of the uses of video-conferencing at the school are exotic. They are purely practical and all the better for that. The technology brings expertise into the school. Jackie has accessed specialist help on the mainland, video-conferencing with specialists in attention deficit and autism. The German teacher is beamed in from a nearby island, and the Spanish teacher works from Inverness. Pupils are doing their whole course with video-conferencing. One of the nursery nurses gained qualification by attending a course in Kirkwall via video-conferencing. The adult community of the island also use the technology - people are doing degrees.
The staff who now use video-conferencing as naturally as they would pick up a phone have some useful advice: teachers have to listen to pupils; video-conferencing is two-way; be patient with the technology; keep the groups small; be lively; set the software up in time and test it.; keep out background noise; have a clear purpose.
Video-conference was never perceived as "new technology". Had it been, perhaps it would be gathering dust now. As Jackie says: "We do tend to go with the flow and try things out - if they work and save time, they stay. If they are any trouble in the slightest, they go. Video-conference had been tried here several years ago - before the technology was sufficiently developed. Due to unreliability and poor quality, it was dropped in favour of electronic whiteboard audio-conferencing - this legacy was still in the backs of some minds and had to be disprovenI Convinced that every opportunity should be afforded to remote schools, we tried everything by video-conference - some things worked, some things didn't."
"Proper" technical support is a phone call away but not on the island. Very skilled technicins can solve our problem, but only with a teacher spending the equivalent amount of time on this end of the phone doing as told - time teachers don't have, something Orkney Islands Council recognises.
Video-conference is easy to use and rarely goes wrong - it's practically idiot proof.
* Technical support is a must * ICT in teaching should be labour saving, enriching and meaningful * Staff involvement in decision making is crucial * Implementation must be planned and paced * Easy to use
RUNNER UP DAVID BLOW
David Blow has been in teaching for 25 years and has been deputy head at Ashcombe School in Dorking for the last 13. His responsibilities are staffing, finance, curriculum and language college matters. Ashcombe has been a language college since 1998 with 1,460 students and 85 staff with a computer-to-student ratio of 1:5. One of the unique features of the college is ICT in the teaching of modern foreign languages, and at the heart of the school's thinking is ICT as an entitlement for all students. The work that emanates from this philosophy is impressive. Data-logging in science has been incorporated into the routine work. In modern languages Auralog voice recognition software is used. A symphony has been collaboratively composed via email links with a school in Germany.
"One of our management strengths is that we have tied ICT into accountabilities," says David. "We have ensured that every head of department has an accountability for the delivery of ICT. There is an ICT group that co-ordinates and audits the delivery to avoid overlaps. For instance, in English, that accountability might be using the ICT facilities in Year 9 as a support for literacy. English would have an extra member of staff and a timetable slot in one of the suites. There would have been an agreement before the beginning of the academic year about where English would use ICT to deliver the statutory requirement both for English and for ICT generally."
There is a policy of keeping computers in networked suites because David feels that this is the best way to ensure entitlement. The school is also continuing to develop video on demand, building on the content they generate. This means that students can bring to their screen any video material that is on their course. Ashcombe is also developing inexpensive video-conferencing via CU-See Me software. There is already a link with an Italian school in place.
The phrase "High quality ICT management" recurs frequently. What does he mean by that? "Someone in senior management who has an overall plan. Where there is proper planning with resources tied into the curriculum, access to good training and support. You need all of that at all times. If any parts are missing then you will get frustration. High quality ICT management is keeping all that going."
* Vision centred on ICT to improve pupil learning as entitlement for all
* High quality ICT management, led from top with personal enthusiasm and commitment, but involving everyone
* Sensitive management of staff with emphasis on training for all, plenty of encouragement and support and recognition of the need for time
* Ethos of support and sharing both within school and outside
* Adequate and reliable resources and technical support