Sean O'Sullivan tells Pete Roythorne how extra sources of funding give individuals the freedom to innovate
"We may be a well resourced school, but we still only get the normal school budget," says Sean O'Sullivan, deputy head at Frank Wise School in Banbury, Oxford. "Although we do have a strong School Parents Association that raises a lot of money, this tends to be ploughed into bigger projects, such as new buildings or updating our fleet of buses. Additional funding for our ICT budget comes from the hard work of our staff in searching out grants or winning competitions."
Investment from events such as BT's Future Talk Awards and Becta's ICT in Practice Awards have been instrumental in helping the school achieve its aims. With tight budgets such extra income has given individuals the opportunity to be more innovative with the use of ICT and not feel guilty about spending money on unproven technology.
"Our attitude is that if we want a particular piece of technology, then we buy one and try to make it available to everybody," continues Sean. "We try to build a strong groundswell of interest before committing to further investment. The more we've developed this culture the more the governors and head have been prepared to back our decisions."
Another key factor in the development of the school's use of ICT has been in handing as much control to the pupils as possible. "The more control you give them, the more they learn," explains Sean. "This can lead to a much more creative and inspiring experience. It may be frustrating in some respects, as you often have your own ideas about how you expect things to go. But the outcome will always be good and the impact of a child thinking 'this is my stuff' is immeasurable."
To highlight just how dynamic this approach has been for the school, Sean explains how, during a recent conference in Bristol, he and two of his pupils did a presentation to a group of secondary school teachers. While Sean was giving his preamble, the two pupils were connecting up the laptop and projector for the presentation. "The feedback from the teachers was extremely satisfying," says Sean. "Here were two pupils who under other circumstances would have had trouble operating a mouse, yet they were wiring up complicated technology on their own."
All teachers within the school have to assess their own pupils and then use their imagination to get technology to help them meet the learning needs of those pupils. It's not about making it easier to meet those needs; it's about meeting those needs more effectively. As technology has become more advanced, it has, in many respects, become easier to use. Take Apple's Garageband, for example: by dragging and dropping samples on to a timeline you can create good music.
"This sort of thing is great for us," says Sean, "as it means we don't have to stick to simple games or moving shapes around in a word processor to teach the kids the concept of drag and drop. In many ways it can be more rewarding for them as they have an end product. It's the same with digital video; the quality of the material that the kids are able to produce is a motivator in itself. And this training in audio and video literacy gives them a much broader base of communication skills."
Sharing ideas within the school, happens on many levels; word of mouth obviously plays a strong part on a general day-to-day basis. As Sean puts it, "It gets round pretty quick if someone's doing something of note." But there's also a formal feedback process built into the planning system, with each co-ordinator observing their teachers' classes at least twice a term and then completing formal comment forms.
"We have a strong culture of sharing ideas, and it helps that it's in the nature of teaching special needs that we're all dropping into each other's classes and used to having lots of support staff in our lessons," explains Sean. "If you see somebody doing something good you wouldn't think twice about employing it in your own lessons."
Externally, sharing ideas is done through being pro-active, through constantly looking for new platforms and showcases to demonstrate what the pupils can achieve. These can take the form of anything from trips abroad to setting up art exhibitions within the local community or taking pupils to conferences.
Finally, Sean adds, "It's important to stand up and fight your corner in education. For example, we're multi-platform based and, in the early days, it was extremely difficult for us to get our LEA to fund us to buy Mac software as everything was geared towards PCs... that is certainly not the case now."
* Let pupils lead the work
* Apply for grantscompetitions
* Test the water
* Stand up for what you believe in
* Showcase good work KEY TECHNOLOGIES
* Hyperstudio www.hyperstudio.com
* Apple www.apple.comukeducation
* BETT www.bettshow.co.uk
This is a great opportunity to see what's on offer and to talk to people about their experiences.
* Digital cameras eg Canon www.canon.co.uk
* Symbol software www.mayer-johnson.com
PSHE and others
Versatile resources and software
* www.priorywoods. middlesbrough.sch.uk
SEN resources, Topical
* www.bbc.co.ukcbbc Numeracy games etc
* www.atomiclearning.com ICT training when you need it. "This is a fantastic resource for me," says Sean. "It has enabled me to spend far less time answering queries from other staff about how to use various bits of software. Now I just refer them to the relevant tutorial within Atomic Learning and it frees me up to do my job."