Facing the challenge

31st March 2006 at 01:00
Pupils using computers in school was not enough for one headteacher, so she gave old machines to needy parents and made a home connection. Dorothy Walker investigates

Brenda Bigland achieves impressive mileage from her school's ICT resources.

Even her recycling strategy serves an educational purpose. When it is time to replace computers, the older models are given to families without a machine, not only helping pupils with their homework, but also strengthening the school's links with parents. And Brenda managed to find even more good ideas with the help of Becta's Self-Review Framework.

Brenda is headteacher at Lent Rise combined school, Slough, and was runner-up in the Foundation Stage and Primary Leadership category of this year's Becta ICT in Practice awards. She says: "For us, going for the ICT Mark was about seeking further inspiration. We used the framework to help us think outside the box. We had believed we were doing everything we could, but we realised there was still more we could do."

Giving away computers is just one of many ways the school reaches out to its community, aiming to give every single child the chance to make the most of ICT in and beyond school. Another success has been the inspired use of the school's cybercafe. By day, the versatile room is full of pupils; after hours, they are joined by parents who come to learn about ICT from their own children. Pupils pick up on what they have learned in class to guide mums and dads through the pleasures of taking digital photos or making animated stories. It makes for a friendly way to learn and serves as a confidence booster for the whole family.

"The framework encouraged us to challenge ourselves," says Brenda. "How could we help those children we still hadn't reached? How could we provide more opportunities to use ICT for homework or research? And how could we extend the more able children who want to do more exploration on their own?"

Some of the answers called for little investment. "We talked to our teaching assistants who said they would be happy to run homework and research clubs after school. The cost is nominal, and suddenly we have opened up a new world for some children. And it is such a simple solution.

"We have also started to publish a series of challenges on our school network. Every teacher has come up with ten challenges on a particular subject. Any child who wants to can dip in and have a go, and a prize will be awarded each term for the pupil who puts in most effort. This is not just for the more able - any pupil can take the opportunity to pursue an interest and explore ideas online. It's going to make a big impact."

Business partnerships with a variety of IT providers have helped the school add to its resource base. When Brenda received a promotional leaflet from video-conferencing company Questmark, she recognised a great opportunity and struck a deal. In return for equipment and training, the school would provide case studies that demonstrated the impact video-conferencing could make in the classroom.

That was eight years ago, and today Brenda says: "Video-conferencing has taken us such a long way - there is so much you can do with this technology. One of our latest projects has been to twin every one of our classes with children in a different EU nation. They can learn with, and from, each other using the power of ICT.

"Even our youngest tots can be linked with older children who are learning English. The older children can tell the younger ones a story - folklore tales from their own culture, or stories that reveal something of their background, their country and their life. The younger children in my school learn the art of animation, so they can choose the story they enjoy most, animate it and present it to their partners as a gift.

"The project helps cross so many divides, and it allows teachers to collaborate. We have found a first-language teacher of French who comes in to take pupils from the age of six upwards for some French. They will be able to practise with their partners in other nations. By the time they leave school, children will have made virtual visits to seven different countries.

"We achieved the ICT Mark, but we expect to revisit the framework, and I also expect it will evolve," she says. "I find that the minute you tick the boxes and say 'Yes, I've done it,' is the minute you stagnate, because the world of ICT moves on. My hope is that the framework will be re-evaluated regularly to reflect new opportunities, allowing us to continue to develop and grow."


* First, I went through the SRF with my school improvement manager. We thrashed it about, we questioned and challenged it. We said: 'No, that can't be done' and then we said: 'Well, actually, maybe it could.' We then went through the framework with the senior management team and, finally, with the entire staff.

* We sent out questionnaires to parents and did a hands-up questionnaire in class for children. That helped us assess the needs of the community and decide what action should be taken, and how. We asked whether families had ICT, how they used it and how they would like to employ it. We also took the opportunity to collect parents' email addresses so we now communicate via email. The questionnaire did much to move us forward.

* The SRF didn't produce any surprises, but it did help us realise that although we see ourselves as having a can-do culture, there were areas where we were a little can't-do.

* The SRF is a developmental framework - you are not supposed to achieve everything tomorrow, and it won't provide you with easy answers. But you can use it as a way of taking steps towards your own solution.

* The SRF is worth doing. People are always asking me: 'What are you going to do next?' Sometimes I think: 'I don't know!' The framework allows you to find a way forward.

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