How to build a high-tech school on a low-tech budget
Delivering a high-quality computing curriculum and improving technology use in all subjects is increasingly difficult with today’s shrinking budgets. Yet you can find extra funding for your school in a number of different places, and structure provision creatively to ensure your pupils have the tools they need to excel.
A little internet research will reveal a variety of local, national and international funding opportunities, such as those available through grantsforschools.org, or the links and advice offered through the innovation charity Nesta.
Funding strategy document
It is worth creating a funding strategy document to outline how any money you receive will affect your pupils’ progress and other outcomes. This will clarify your vision to outside organisations and show them exactly why they should help you to succeed. It will also save money: by bringing into sharp focus exactly what you need, you will no longer waste funds on pieces of equipment that turn out not to have the impact you wanted.
And the benefits of a strategy document are more than financial. By basing your vision for digital learning firmly on the children’s learning needs, you can develop and deliver the most dynamic and purposeful curriculum possible, in the confidence that your chosen technology has a place and will be used effectively.
Follow this link for an overview of what to take account of when putting together a coherent ICT strategy for your school and how to go about it.
Aside from direct funding and sponsorship, schools can introduce other schemes to transform pupils’ access to technology.
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is a familiar strategy that has flourished in many schools. Here, pupils bring their own devices to school and use them for learning. This model may raise safeguarding concerns, but it really can and does work.
One common worry is pupils accessing restricted sites. However, schools can mitigate this risk by using one of the many location-based BYOD technologies that provide the ability to set web access policies to ensure pupils can only access what is sanctioned by the school. These tools not only allow schools to filter access by a user’s role (i.e. teacher or pupil), but can also set access based on the user’s physical location on the network. For example, it can restrict pupils from accessing certain sites and apps while in the classroom, but allow that access in the playground.
BYOD helps to connect the school with the wider learning community, particularly by fostering greater awareness among, and involvement with, parents, who often don’t know exactly what their children are doing while using devices.
At BYOD schools I have seen, parents and children are encouraged to contribute to the development of an acceptable-use policy, and are far more actively involved in how this is carried out and policed. Consequently, pupils are more inclined to use technology responsibly both at school and at home.
BYOD also encourages pupils’ relationship with learning to flourish. Teaching them how to use their own devices to learn in a variety of creative ways means they are more likely to extend this outside school and widen their participation as digital citizens. The scheme opens up students’ learning and radically alters their view of what they can use devices for.
However, all of this potential can only be unlocked by planning how the devices will be managed and used within the school setting, and which applications and platforms will used by pupils and staff. Just as a class arriving to play tennis armed with an array of sports equipment, from golf clubs to cricket bats would be chaotic and unworkable, it would be equally unproductive for students to bring in devices and use different platforms and applications.
Therefore, one vital aspect to consider in any BYOD rollout is to ensure all devices to be used in school, by both pupils and staff, are set up to use the same platform for learning. Whichever provider and suite of tools you opt for, it is crucial that a unified platform is used to ensure that learning is the focus and not technical support and troubleshooting. This may sound a painful task, but these platforms are designed to work across devices, so it is just a question of making sure that this policy is implemented, so that access and learning across all devices is the same.
To see just how the BYOD approach can work in practice, I recommend visiting a school in your region that is already using the BYOD approach, or reading guidelines of how to best set up such an approach in your own setting.
Another strategy is Buy Your Own Device. Here, the school works with a technology provider to offer a bespoke scheme whereby parents can, over time, make regular contributions to buy the devices their children use during their learning.
This could be seen as transferring the pressure of funding to parents. Yet, I have seen Buy Your Own Device transform the use of technology and build excellent parental and community engagement.
As the child keeps the device once it has been paid for, it is available for continuous learning in school or at home. Parents feel more connected to what children are doing at school and can easily follow their child’s learning journey. This also puts the school in control of determining the security and curricular experience on the students’ devices.
The two-way communication also means that engaged parents can inform the school of new apps and learning strategies which have had an impact at home.
From the school’s point of view, Buy Your Own Device can reduce the residual costs of technology provision, as pupils and parents help to purchase, store, and maintain the devices. Engaging parents and guardians from the beginning means they can participate in creating a usage policy and making sure the process runs smoothly for their child. In fact, this ownership can be the most powerful aspect of the scheme, as parents and children really come on board, seeing the device as ‘theirs’ and not just an anonymous piece of equipment.
The question of whether every parent can afford to take part is of course an issue, but this can easily be overcome with the strategic use of Pupil Premium funds and other resources.
A problem shared…
Another approach is to create a technology “cluster-library,” harnessing the economies of scale available to schools within clusters or other types of affiliations or groupings.
With some clear timetabling and joined-up thinking, schools within a cluster can share a library of equipment as and when required. Everyone’s costs are lower, and there is the potential for equipment to be more varied. This document may help you in considering such an approach for your own cluster’s needs.
These are just a few of the strategies to consider if your resources don’t match your needs, and should provide you with some new avenues to explore to secure the technology your future digital citizens need and deserve.
However, equipment and funding is just one piece of the puzzle. Whilst the presence of adequate technology is important, it is not as important as developing a clear vision of how technology based learning will take place, a creative and engaging curriculum to match, and a team of staff that feel confidently trained and developed to deliver it successfully.
Once you have the technology you feel you need and this is matched by a clear vision, a suitable curriculum for learning and a confidently trained staff, this is the real recipe for success.
Jason Budge is a specialist leader in education (technology and creativity) and Computing At School master teacher