Janet Hayward was appointed head of Cadoxton Primary School in Barry, Wales, last summer. She wanted ICT to be a major part of her pupils' learning, but when she arrived at the school, she found that her intended move to classroom-based computers faced apparently insurmountable problems: Cadoxton's Victorian building placed severe restrictions on what was financially and practicably possible. In particular, costings for electrical wiring and broadband connections seemed prohibitive. But Hayward did not accept defeat. She provided laptops and iPods for use in class, while searching for a financially achievable way of realising her vision.
Hayward's research led her to the supplier Solar Ready (www.solar-ready.co.uk), a specialist in the development of low-energy, solar-powered ICT applications. The system it installed uses 12v electricity produced by solar collectors mounted internally at the top of the school's windows. The electricity flows into a central computer housing a Windows Multipoint Server. This set-up enables a single host computer to support multiple desktops, and removes the need to provide separate mains outlets and internet points for each user. Four of these servers feed 60 desktop computers distributed across nine classrooms.
The system came into operation on 19 December 2011 and Cadoxton has run its classroom computers on free electricity since then; the single mains outlet installed as a backup has remained unused. At #163;250 a seat, the system cost a fraction of the estimated bill for a more conventional installation. Unit costs for further desktops will be even lower, and there is a considerable payback from the free electricity.
The new computers are transforming learning at Cadoxton. "Children have been able to develop research skills and also use a range of software to improve their ICT skills on a daily basis," says Ceri-Ann Clark, a Year 6 teacher.
"It's a shift in thinking and culture," Hayward says. "And doing it this way makes it manageable and affordable."
Tips from the scheme
Do the research, talk to suppliers, trust their judgement and yours. Hayward says she made "a leap of faith" to go with a system that looked almost too good to be true.
Recognise that an innovation like this involves supporting teachers through a change in their classroom practice. Cadoxton now has an ICT learning support assistant.
Cadoxton is rewriting the curriculum in light of the new technology, but this will not be rushed and will change organically over time.
Evidence that it works?
Cadoxton plans to install more solar-powered desktops. The computer suite, too, is to be upgraded using money saved from converting it to solar power. It is too early for hard data, but Hayward is confident that levels of engagement in the classroom have risen, and seamless working between home and school is increasing. "Parents are excited by what's happening, telling us that children are spending more time on their homework and enjoying the capacity to message their teachers," she says.
Cadoxton's video of the project, which won a Third Millennium Learning Award from ICT association Naace in 2012, is available on YouTube at http:bit.lyIGTn9y
Approach: Putting solar-powered technology in the classroom
Started: Planned in September 2011 and installed in December
Leader: Headteacher Janet Hayward
Name: Cadoxton Primary School
Location: Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, Wales
Age range: 4-11
Estyn overall rating: Good (2011).