The mother of invention

7th January 2011 at 00:00
It's not sticky-backed plastic and cardboard tube time yet, but with a bit of imagination you can bring innovation to the classroom without spending money you don't have. George Cole finds out more

For the first time in more than a decade, government investment in ICT in education has been greatly reduced. The Building Schools for the Future programme has been scrapped and the Harnessing Technology grant has been halved to #163;100 million. Little wonder a survey by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) found 48 per cent of secondaries and 42 per cent of primaries say they are unlikely to maintain their ICT investment in the next financial year.

"A lot of ICT development has been made on the basis that the money is readily available," says Gary Clawson, chief executive of the North West Learning Grid. "Frankly, schools will need to cease buying luxury IT items like iPads - innovation now has to come from technology that exists, by using it more effectively."

There are many ways schools can innovate and develop their ICT, even with a reduced budget. "Schools should be focusing on training," says Ray Fleming, Microsoft UK's education marketing manager. "Teachers need support on how to embed ICT in their teaching."

Mr Fleming adds that it is expensive for staff to go out of school for training. Online support and training through forums, blogs, webchats and podcasts is cheaper. Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS) offers a search engine that helps teachers find training providers, many of which are free and online. Naace, the IT teachers' association, offers a free online training service,

Joe Dale, an independent consultant, says teachers should develop their own personal learning network (PLN) using blogs, forums and social networking tools like Twitter. "There's a strong, vibrant, supportive community of teachers on Twitter, with many of them sharing resources and ideas," he says (see page 30).

The National Digital Resource Bank provides teachers with a vast range of free, open content. Interactive whiteboard suppliers such as SMART and Promethean offer free lesson plans and resources from their websites, and services such as Microsoft's Live@edu and Google Apps for Education provide students with many free tools and resources, including email.

East Lothian Council equips its six secondary and 34 primary schools with Google Apps. David Gilmour, the council's web officer, says: "It includes superb collaborative tools; for example, students can work together on the same document."

Ollie Bray, LTS national adviser for emerging technologies, says: "Schools should choose appropriate software and not just because it's free." He adds that free software like Google Earth and the audio-editing tool Audacity are excellent resources. Microsoft's free software includes Photostory picture-editing software and Mouse Mischief, which enables multiple computer mice to operate the same computer. "Many schools have lots of spare mice and these could be used as a low-cost classroom voting system," says Mr Fleming.

Neil Winton, principal teacher of English at Perth Academy, says: "We use free software like Wiki Spaces for Educators to make multimedia wiki pages, WordPress for creating blogs, and Flickr to upload photographs of school trips. Glogster is great for creating posters, while Diigo lets pupils annotate web pages."

Mr Clawson believes schools and local authorities should consider using free, open source tools and content such as OpenOffice, an office software suite, and Moodle, a learning platform. He estimates a secondary school could typically save more than #163;35,000 a year, and a primary more than #163;6,000, by opting for open source resources.

Dave Garland, deputy head at Community School adopted an effective and low-cost system for conducting distance learning projects with partner primary schools: "We didn't want to use an expensive video-conferencing system, so we bought #163;5 webcams from the local supermarket and used Skype (a free internet phone system) instead," he says.

Mr Bray says groups of schools should consider pooling their ICT resources; for example, sharing digital cameras. Upgrading your broadband service means you can take advantage of cloud-based services like the forthcoming Microsoft Office 365 Education, which will include resources such as Word.

South Dartmoor Community College does most of its communication online, including emailing parents: "It saves time, saves money, saves paper and many parents like it," says Peter Kensington, assistant principal. The school uses its SIMS Learning Gateway for many things, from parents checking their child's attendance to pupils submitting work.

Gwynedd Council's 22 secondary and 150 primary schools are using the xchangewales e-procurement system for ordering. "Schools can compare prices and products with various suppliers. It saves them money and is much quicker than using post," says Robin Roberts, the council's SIMS co-ordinator.

Carol Hughes, an admin offer at Tryfan School in Bangor, says: "One supplier quoted #163;100 for some printer consumables, and another #163;30 for the same product, so you see how we can save money."

Later this year, Serco Learning is launching a new management information system for primary schools, Serco Progresso. Company managing director Mohamad Djahanbakhsh says: "The total cost of ownership will be up to 40 per cent cheaper because schools will be able to monitor all costs and teachers will require little training to use it."

RM's theme at this year's BETT is achieving more with less and the company will be offering schools savings, flexible finance schemes, and financial advice. "This could include helping schools find grant funding organisations," says RM's commercial manager David Everett. The company is also launching a range of lower-cost products at BETT, which will have fewer features than standard versions, but with the quality and service that schools expect, says RM.


Julian Baker, head of IT, St Edward's School, Oxford. 650 pupils aged 13-18

"Replace your computers every four years, rather than three. Re-imaging your PCs (rebuilding the hard drives) optimises performance, although it involves a lot of hard work. Simple things, like switching off all machines at the end of the day, can be done automatically.

"Also, putting #163;25 worth of memory into a PC makes it run much better. And invest in PCs rather than Apple Macs because you get more for your money. Look at the total cost of ownership; for example, the cost of inkjet cartridges can soon outstrip the price of the printer. Most of our network is wired because it offers much better performance than wireless. We've halved the number of physical servers using virtualisation (software-based servers). Make sure your teaching staff can do basic tasks like replacing toner cartridges, so your technicians can focus on more advanced jobs."


Paul Haigh, assistant head, Notre Dame High School, Sheffield. 1,400 pupils aged 11-18

"We're using the free VLE, Moodle, because it's the best out there; the money we save is a bonus. We hardly send any paper letters - we send emails to 1,000 of our parents. It's tempting to cut your ICT budget, but ICT can help your school reduce costs elsewhere.

"For example, we used to produce a 2,000-print glossy school magazine, but now we've made it an e-magazine that can be downloaded.

"We use a lot of open source software, but we also use Microsoft Office because many courses expect children to use Microsoft applications. Open source and proprietary software can happily co-exist."


Ray Fleming's blog has many ICT cost-saving ideas for schools


Joe Dale's blog for advice on personal learning networks

Open Source

Gary Clawson's document on how open services can save schools money www.nwlg.orgdownloadsdocspapersopenservices.pdf

Free resources and support






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