Dave Tyler, Head teacher of St Thomas Primary School, Swansea, talks to Dorothy Walker about can-do culture

4th November 2005 at 00:00
They may be based in a crumbling Victorian building, but Dave Tyler's students have their sights set firmly on the future. Visitors are delighted when pupils volunteer to show how they made their latest DVD or computer animation, confidently talking through the finer points.

Dave is headteacher of St Thomas Primary School in Swansea, and the impromptu demonstrations are just one product of the can-do culture that has emerged under his leadership. ICT has been key to creating a buzz and nurturing a desire to learn. Much of its impact is down to Dave's unstinting support for his teachers.

Dave first became enthusiastic about the potential of ICT when computers began to arrive in schools in the early 1980s. He was teaching at a Primary School in Wales and recalls the impact of Developing Tray software, which helped children to develop reading strategies by predicting missing letters in passages of text. "I used it with Year 6 and I can remember how excited they were," he says. "Today there is a version for the PC, and children find it as exciting as ever."

Shortly afterwards, when he was appointed deputy head, Dave realised that not everyone shared his enthusiasm for technology. "A colleague said: I have this computer in my room - I know I have to press the Break and Shift keys, but I need something that will interest the children. I asked what she wanted to do, and it turned out she didn't want to use the machine at all. I ended up saying: We have to teach children for their future and not our past.

"The conversation was a wake-up call. I realised that when I became a head I'd be working with a group of people who didn't see ICT as a great new invention and didn't have confidence in it. We also had to remember these teachers and include them in everything we did. That has underpinned my thinking."

Dave arrived as head at St Thomas 15 years ago, and his ideas gained true momentum when he had his second "big moment" with ICT - his introduction to the interactive whiteboard. "In 2002 I saw my first board at a presentation organised by the Welsh Assembly, which had plans to install one in every school," he says. "I sat there wishing I could have had one of these when I was in the classroom. Whiteboards had huge potential and I knew that once we had ours, there would be no going back."

This time round, his entire staff shared his enthusiasm. When the school's ICT co-ordinator demonstrated the whiteboard to her colleagues, everyone wanted one. The governors agreed it was a good idea and Dave's support strategy swung into place. "You can't install a board on Monday and expect a teacher to be an all-singing, all-dancing user by Tuesday," he says.

"Teachers need to know that they will be supported throughout the transition period and that they'll be given time to get to grips with it."

He approached the General Teaching Council for Wales and got funding for a year, during which time staff could spend non-contact time with the ICT co-ordinator. "One of our most important discoveries was that we needed to take time in choosing software," he says. "Some software was simply re-packaged PC material - the print was too small and the colours were wrong for the board - and that is still happening. Now we free up a couple of staff to spend an entire morning with a sales rep.

"We also take a strategic approach to visiting the BETT show, circulating the BETT edition of TES Online and mapping out exactly what teachers will go to see. They are very aware of what works, and it is fascinating to see how they've all developed different ways of using the board for a particular subject."

As much training as possible is done by in house, with governors learning alongside teachers. You need to allow everyone to develop confidence together; you can't have just one person with the knowledge. At least five out of our nine class teachers have the skills to be ICT co-ordinator,"

Dave says.

A new school building will be completed in 18 months, and Dave is confident that everyone will make the most of its hi-tech facilities. "It is the teachers who are driving ahead with ICT - and they show no signs of slowing down."

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