"I have had a chequered career," says Shirley Hackett. Well, how many ICT advisers do you know who have been a physiotherapist, played netball at the top level, had breast cancer and guided one of the first PFIs (private finance initiatives) in education?
Shirley Hackett of Dudley LEA entered teaching by a circuitous route, working first in a primary school then a secondary, moving from teaching PE to teaching maths and IT. She started at the Computer Centre in Dudley in 1992 and, together with then adviser Brian Kennedy, was responsible for developing the private finance initiative in 1997. In 1999, with everything signed and sealed, the results of the PFI began to appear in Dudley schools.
"A partnership with a public company to raise standards," is how Shirley describes the PFI. "Our role is to raise the standards; RM's role is to provide what we need to do it." Dudley entered into a 10-year agreement with RM in January 1999 to provide a managed service to 110 of the borough's schools. The advantages of this method is that the private sector makes the initial capital investment and takes the risk of delivering a service to meet the LEA's specifications. They are only paid on successful service delivery. The equipment in the schools is refreshed at the end of five years.
Would such a system work elsewhere? Shirley points out that Dudley is a small borough and has always kept all the schools together. "The PFI works in terms of best value, continuity and consistency. I don't know how other LEAs cope. Some have five or six flavours of machines, no consistent software and a variety of networks."
Shirley has been closely involved with the project from the beginning, firstly as head of Dudley Education Computer Centre and, more recently, as school development adviser with special responsibility for ICT. Shirley also works with the school effectiveness division as well as being the lead school development adviser for the ICT component of the Dudley LEA Education Development Plan. Her role is developing teaching and learning through the monitoring and evaluation of, and feedback on, the impact of the project in the classroom, along with curriculum development using ICT.
Full of praise for the partnership with RM, Shirley describes its role. "RM supplies the training, the kit and the helplines. An important advantage is that the RM staff are not located in Abingdon but in Dudley; some of the staff used to work with Dudley LEA and transferred over to RM when the project first started."
The PFI is now half-way through the contract and has reached the stage where the equipment has to be "refreshed". Simply, that means that much of the kit will be replaced. Many schools across the country worried by the cost of replacing and renewing ageing equipment will look with envy at what happens in Dudley.
The innovative Dudley Grid is open to all schools, it is not password protected and one of its most successful areas has been the Dudley Challenge that has been taken up from China to Germany. At the moment, the Challenge idea is being revamped in a partnership with NESTA Futurelab. It will be called the Learning Journey.
The commitment to the future can be seen in Shirley's designation of one of her colleagues as learning futures adviser. John Davies has been responsible for the work on developing a new internet browser called Aquabrowser. "It's a little like a walled garden in that it contains material that has been approved. We can find good sites on the Romans that schools would want to use. The browser will then create an Aquabrowser experience and can be searched intelligently and safely."
Future plans include a project with PDAs and 150 have already gone into five pilot schools. However, one of the biggest problems is sustainability and this is at the heart of all Shirley's ICT work.
Dudley has its critics but not many of them are to be found in Dudley schools.
* Teaching tips
* Do not be afraid to take a risk, especially if you think that the end result will improve teaching and learning
* We achieve more by working together; behind every leader there has to be an effective team
* New technology can look flash but does it improve teaching or learning?
* If you are not sure about what you are doing, talk it through or ask for help. There is always someone who knows an appropriate answer or can steer you in the right direction
* You need to have the support of key decision makers to be able to make wide-scale changes. This may take time so be persistent and keep chipping away
The outward-facing site for the Dudley Grid for Learning contains a whole raft of information and learning resources such as the Dudley Challenge
This is a safe and reliable source of information on any subject. The children's part is a very useful resource that we often overlook
This is a source of a great deal of professional information that helps me advise schools and keeps me up to date
This site provides the basis for school support
Virtual tourist website - a personal favourite as I love to travel
Norman Crawford General adviser for ICT Tameside LEA Ashton under Lyne