Where learning hits the wall
A primary in West Lothian is leading the ICT revolution in education while a secondary in Renfrewshire proves that passion and dedication to looked-after children can make a significant difference to how their lives turn out. Emma Seith and Elizabeth Buie report on two more winners in this year's Scottish Education Awards
It makes a steady descent from the ceiling until all 20 square metres of its surface are revealed. It is huge; to a P1 child it must look gigantic.
This is Peel Primary's "virtual hall wall" and the massive screen succeeds in transforming the otherwise dull, tiny gym into, well, whatever they like.
Arresting images of a rainforest were projected when P6 did a themed creative dance. And when P1 put on a nativity play, they did it against a range of backdrops, including a night sky with the Star of Bethlehem beaming in the centre. Previously, both groups would have had to make do with a white sheet tied to the wall bars.
"Our hall is small and has no natural light," says Graeme Logan, headteacher of the Livingston primary in West Lothian. "It is also part of the community centre and we can't put up displays of pupils' art work for fear it will be damaged by flying balls in the evenings. This seemed like the perfect solution."
The virtual hall wall is part of a larger initiative. Technology, Mr Logan feels, has succeeded in penetrating almost every area of society except schools. His vision is to make Peel dynamic and exciting and fit for the 21st century. The virtual wall is one step in that direction.
Other measures include the installation of an internal sound system and 18 plasma screens peppered round the school (known as the "virtual ethos network"), which flash up the latest news; and weekly emails to parents, keeping them informed about their children's learning. Instead of jotters, pupils in P4-7 have started using pen drives to transport homework and personal learning plans between home and school. Hand-held computers, similar to those used by the audience to vote on quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, have been introduced to "enhance the pupil and staff voice".
All this and more led to Peel winning the ICT learning award at this year's Scottish Education Awards. All the pupils receive basic training in ICT skills, while staff have "techno-buddies" for support in making the most of the technology.
Initially, staff expressed fears that a weekly email would lead to them being inundated with electronic correspondence from parents. This has not happened, though around 89 per cent of families take part and 100 per cent have internet access at home. In fact, parents get in touch with the school less, claims Mr Logan, and the school's paper use has been cut by 70 per cent.
Peel is in a relatively affluent area, but Mr Logan insists schools serving more challenging areas could also make use of email. "You assume you could only do this in a leafy suburb with middle-class parents, but we did a survey of parents in Blackburn, whose children attend Murrayfield Primary (which has a free school meal entitlement above the national average), and over 80 per cent had computer access at home."
Getting parents on board and persuading them to buy into this vision has been central to the school's success, says Mr Logan. It has also led to the parent council raising more money this year than before - pound;20,000. The money has paid for the internal sound system which has been used by the pupil council to deliver a weekly news bulletin to every class, and generally, to highlight "key successes".
"We plan to play music in reflection time at the end of the day when the children think about what they have learnt. There has also been a suggestion that during tidy-up time we play `Flight of the Bumblebee'."
Pupil council members Alex Hague (P7) and Grant Herpich (P6) prefer putting together a broadcast that will be heard by the school to simply feeding back what they have been discussing. Alex feels that using technology will stand her in good stead for the future. "When you grow up and get a job, most require you to use a computer," she says.
Gavin Newton (P6) says the virtual hall wall has made assembly more exciting: "It was always boring with someone standing reading a story, but now it's different."
Teachers are experts in learning and teaching, says Mr Logan, not ICT boffins, but they should be able to use it to enhance what they do.