Top-notch technology

18th November 2011 at 00:00
ICT is more than an add-on at Jordanhill School, where integrated use of computers lies at the heart of teaching, management and admin.

It looks like technology misbehaving when you need it most, which is what technology delights in doing. "But not here," protests teacher Ailsa Kyle, eyeing the frozen whiteboard in exasperation. "That's the difference at Jordanhill School. Technology always works when you need it. Our IT department makes sure of that."

She seeks corroboration from the Primary 1 class, gathered on the floor at her feet. "Do we ever have to wait for our computer like this?"


"It always works, doesn't it?"


Normal service is soon restored, but the few minutes' wait while Mrs Kyle refreshes the screen gives time to canvass thoughts from the P1s at the only school in Scotland that currently holds the ICT Mark - which has just been renewed at Jordanhill through external assessment.

The wee ones love the whiteboard in class, they say. Most get to use a computer at home. Around a third have iPads. Buying one would be a good idea, they advise. "I use it to print things off for my friends," says Robbie.

"Somebody tried to show me maths on one," says Joshua. "I don't like maths. I like drawing and painting and making dragons on a computer. You could do that with paper, but it would take about a thousand years."

He looks and ponders. "You'd be dead by then."

All the way from these Primary 1s up to sixth-years, computers are at the heart of learning, teaching, management and admin, says rector Paul Thomson, who heads the secondary part of Scotland's only direct grant- funded mainstream school.

"You need buy-in from everyone over a protracted period of time to get the levels of operation and technology we have now."

Every class in the Glasgow school has an interactive whiteboard. Each department has its own set of radio laptops that teachers can pull in for "flexible deployment" and internet access, he says - although he acknowledges that being outwith local authority control helps the school in terms of funding and ensures good ICT support.

"We have voting and active expression pods, digital and video cameras that departments can book through our portal - which is a vital, whole-school piece of technology that lets everyone see what's being used and where, and allows us to audit that use and buy in more when necessary."

Constructed using Microsoft Sharepoint, the portal underpins learning and teaching as well as administration at Jordanhill School. "We use Glow mainly with pupils as a virtual learning environment," says Dr Thompson. "The portal is mostly for staff - and we use it all the time.

"It's flexible and responsive, whether you want to capture pupils' perspective or share information among staff - from notices for the day and events for the week to the detailed needs of individual pupils. We use it to engage with staff and pupils through surveys of opinion on courses, how the school is operating, where we are with Curriculum for Excellence.

"We can pull up predicted and actual exam results, colour-coded to highlight the few that fell short, where we need to focus efforts and find out why."

Set up in 2005, the portal - "because it's the gateway to everything" - was designed to make life easier for teachers, says Dr Thompson. "They have the information they need at their fingertips any time they want it. It is a management, administration and quality-assurance tool. But it's much more than that."

Another key factor in winning ICT awards, Dr Thompson suggests, is the professional development that builds a foundation for confident use and innovation. "All the staff here have a good general level of ICT capability, grounded in the fact that they have to use it in all their daily routines - which is why we have induction programmes for all new staff.

"We teach them how to use the management information system, the portal, the interactive whiteboards - all the technology we have here and use every day."

Over in the secondary school, maths teacher Helen Kelly, who delivers that ICT training to her secondary colleagues, is currently teaching an S1 class about Pi - with the help of a device held in each pupil's hand. "It's more sophisticated than an interactive voting system," she explains.

"As well as numbers and `yes' or `no', they can text whole words and sentences to me in answer to my questions - which is great for assessing their levels of understanding.

"It's also good for getting the literacy aspect of Curriculum for Excellence into a maths class, which isn't always easy."

She turns to the class. "Let's see what you found out in your research - use your pods to tell me the name of the number we talked about yesterday, which starts 3.14 ."

She gives everyone time to enter their answer, then displays a bar chart of the class response on the whiteboard - mostly "pi"s with a few "pie"s. "Which is correct?" she asks. And Charles Tod replies: "It's spelt p, i. It goes on for infinity and never stops and it's the 16th letter in the Greek alphabet."

"This man has done his research," Dr Kelly smiles. "Well done. Now text any interesting facts you've researched that we haven't talked about yet."

Individual responses soon appear on the board, allowing Dr Kelly to correct errors and develop teaching points. "You can also see who's not getting it and why," she comments. "So you talk to them individually afterwards and tackle problems right away. It's a wonderful teaching tool."

Getting new teachers up to speed with this and the other teaching tools at Jordanhill is the responsibility of depute rector and staff development co-ordinator Christine Robertson. "Helen and Emma Bryson in the primary school deliver sessions on the interactive whiteboards, the response systems, the portal and every other aspect of ICT at the school.

"They do that right at the start with the new teachers and make themselves available to answer questions in the following weeks. We've just had this year's induction sessions for new teachers and the feedback is that they find those hands-on, small-group ICT workshops particularly useful."

Even ICT-literate new teachers appreciate an induction into technologies and ways of using them which differ from one school to another, says Dr Kelly. "They might be more used to Smartboards than Promethean, for instance, so we take a few sessions to show them how to use the software. It's time well spent. It gives them the confidence they need to build upon.

"One of the most useful things - which new staff always ask - is whether they can use all the PowerPoints they've prepared for their lessons on our whiteboards. The answer is yes they can. It's a great feature."

Getting up to speed with ICT at Jordanhill is easier for the pupils, they say - even those who don't come to the secondary from its own adjoining primary school. "We use computers in lots of subjects here," says Rebecca Roberton (S1). "The pods seemed hard when we first got them, but you soon get used to them."

It is an appealing technology, says Lucy Crawford (S1). "They're a bit like phones and it's a lot like texting. I like texting a lot. Also you get to see other people's answers on the board, which is very interesting."

The philosophy at Jordanhill School, says Dr Thompson, is to give teachers the tools they need to do the job and make life easier for them. "They then use those in innovative ways. Once teachers see other teachers doing interesting things, they want to try them too. It's not being handed down from management - it's teachers next door teaching them.

"Over time you build a culture that says it's all right to try things out and it's all right if it doesn't work - because together we will make it work."


Jordanhill School has just been re-awarded the ICT Mark, which it has held since 2007. The school previously won the UK-wide Becta award for Leadership in ICT.

The ICT Mark recognises successful, whole-school, strategic use of ICT, both for administration and in learning and teaching across the curriculum.

Accreditation is given after self-review, followed by external assessment in six categories: leadership and management, planning, learning, assessment of ICT capability, professional development and resources.


Ailsa Kyle

Primary 1 teacher

"We teach most subjects in the infant class through active learning. So digital cameras allow children to record progress across the curriculum and provide teachers with an instant record of progress.

"There are vast resources now of excellent online games and web activities. Children use these in school and as homework with parents. Current favourites include and

Sharon Leonard

Maths teacher

"It takes time to prepare lessons for the whiteboard, but the quality of the learning makes it worthwhile. Wireless laptops provide variety, allowing pupils to research and investigate topics or projects, individually or in groups, and to create graphs and presentations.

Manga High is an excellent online mathematics resource that motivates pupils of all abilities through online games. They get immediate results on homework and compete to raise their achievement and gain medals. The games make it exciting and enjoyable and have a particular strength in motivating boys to do extra maths."

Dr Helen Kelly

Maths teacher

"ActivExpression pods show me where pupils make mistakes or have misconceptions. As a result, I now take more time to explore wrong answers they might not be willing to share in front of their peers. The pods are also valuable in PSHE, where you can gauge opinion and take questions on topics pupils aren't comfortable talking about.

"ActivInspire, PowerPoint and video recordings allow pupils to produce short lessons and revision videos. That gives them responsibility for their learning and improves literacy skills.

"`Pass the pen' is very effective. One pupil starts a solution on the whiteboard, then picks another to take over. This continues until the solution is complete, with pupils correcting each other. They are very motivated throughout this activity."

Liz Edmonstone

Primary 2 teacher

"The interactive whiteboard appeals to children because they're used to playing games and watching TV with colourful, detailed images. It's visually stimulating, focuses their attention and engages all of them. The whiteboard provides real and meaningful contexts, builds confidence and allows me to see straight away what pupils are capable of. I use it every day.

"Children like to use media resources, such as tuff cams and digital video cameras, for meaningful purposes. Active learning, experiential learning and learning through play are all important in the early stages. ICT has a positive impact on all these, allowing children to take ownership of their learning and build their confidence."

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today