Tear down the walls

12th March 2004 at 00:00
Richard Jones is a man of many ideas for ICT, all of which are transforming the lives of his pupils. Arnold Evans reports

Want to learn how to embed a hyperlink in a Word document? If you are at Malpas Church in Wales Junior School in Newport, South Wales, all you have to do is get Ben, a pupil in Year 6, to show you how it's done. And you don't have to worry about wasting his time. His demonstration is permanently available in a video clip on the school intranet. His classmates have videoed other tricks of the trade and these form the basis of what will soon grow into a library of cheap and cheerful online tutorials.

It's one of those beguilingly simple ideas that's of undoubted educational value and, at the same time, is genuinely easy to implement. As such, it typifies the practical approach to ICT at Malpas - and helps to explain why the headteacher, Richard Jones, was this year's winner in the Primary Leadership category of the Becta Awards.

Not all of Richard's bright ideas have been quite so easy to put into practice. In fact, his solution to the problem of how a school can make the effective use of a limited number of PCs must have had staff, governors and LEA bigwigs reaching for the smelling salts.

At Malpas, each year group consists of two forms which are taught in adjacent classrooms. At least they were until Richard undertook a radical redesign of the teaching spaces and had the partition wall between each pair of rooms removed. It means that each year group is still in two forms but now shares a large single room. It's not quite open plan because about a fifth of the length of the dividing wall remains. So both the forms (and their teachers) can still feel they have their own territory but the arrangement also enables pupils to move easily around the whole area. Nine networked PCs have been placed along three of the walls. That would be enough machines to meet most of the needs of a single form - but would inevitably result in disgruntled queues if both forms wanted to use them at the same time.

That never happens because Richard had another of his brainwaves. He introduced a two-week timetable. In the first week, while one form has mainly traditional whole-class teaching, the other form gets on with more open-ended activities and exclusive use of the computers. The following week, they simply swap round. At a stroke, this system both maximises the use of the PCs and guarantees that all pupils have an equal chance to get their hands on them.

The system isn't quite as rigid as it might at first seem. Teachers can always negotiate changes to the timetable if the need arises. And pupils are free to wander off to the hall (where there are three computers) or other classrooms in search of an available machine.

As far as the pupil's concerned, it doesn't really matter where the computer is located. Once she has keyed-in her password, she can access her personal home page on the intranet which in turn allows her to access her own work, the courseware produced by her teachers and an impressive range of software.

Richard and his staff have also been industriously removing classroom walls in a metaphoric - and far more important - way. The challenge of embedding ICT in the curriculum, has served as a catalyst, encouraging them to work more as a team, ready to share their lesson plans, schemes of work and teaching materials. This willingness to share extends to colleagues in the other local schools who subscribe to the LEA's own intranet - and from there, via the NGfL, to the wider learning community.

Of course, teachers will only be able to make the most of ICT if they have their own home computer. This inspired another of Richard's brainwaves.

When the school opted for a managed service and a network of exclusively leased computers, its own Pentiums were rendered more or less redundant. So Richard gave them away to the staff.

And if they run into difficulties while at home? No problem - they can always log on and get help from Ben and his classmates.

* Teaching tips

* It's a good idea for primary headteachers to take on the responsibilities of ICT co-ordinator. It's one way of ensuring that ICT gets the priority it deserves

* Having a dedicated computer suite can be counterproductive. Pupils need to be given the freedom to decide for themselves whether ICT is appropriate for any particular task. And having the PCs on a managed service is a major asset. It ensures that teachers don't have to waste time dealing with technical problems

* The easiest and most effective way of making use of the internet is for teachers to produce simple webquests by embedding hyperlinks in Word documents

* Don't reinvent the wheel. There is great material on the internet and the NGfL. Use it

* ICT must always expand pupils' opportunities to learn new things in new ways. Think free-range chickens, not battery hens


* www.webquest.com

* www.topmarks.co.uk

* www.nettlesworth. durham.sch.uk

* www2.britishcouncil.org socrates

* www.malpaschurchjunior. org.uk The school's website


Peter Steele Headteacher Princeville Primary School Bradford

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