I have been at my school for just over a year and have been responsible for the ICT since February. I have had a number of schools and teachers ask questions about our approach with chromebooks and tablets so I thought it best to document what we have been doing so that I had something I could point them towards, teacher always tell us “have a look at children school desks” because we have to keep them in good condition.

I think the best way to begin is for me to think of an ICT past, present and future approach. What did we have when I started? What have we got to now? and what are we about to do? This post is the past and present (well, the summer holidays) post. Over the next few days I will write the others and link them all too.  Oh, why ICT and not Computing? I think Computing is the stuff that is in the curriculum, ICT encompasses everything such as laptops for staff to work on, office computers, tablets for browsing and so on.

So, some context.

We are a federation of infant and junior schools. We have two-form in most year groups but we do have three-form in year 1 and will be three-form from Reception next year onwards. We are currently in two buildings but the small gap between us will be filled in over the next year with a new library, music room and offices. We will then shift a few rooms around, make a new staffroom and suchlike to have one building for the two schools. We also have a pre-school which sends children to us, but is not part of the school.

I started at the school in September 2013 as a Year 4 teacher. At the time, there were 60 Toshiba touch-screen laptops between Year 5 and 6. These classes had Netgear Wifi and the signal barely made it downstairs to Year 4, so we never used the laptops. I found out recently that there was also a Wifi router in Year 3 behind a desk that gave some signal to Year 3 too, but they didn’t use the laptops either. For Year 3 and Year 4, we had access to an ICT suite of 22 computers, in which usually 19 or so worked, so we had the issue of sharing computers to get anything done. The suite was perfect for Year 3 as it was next door for them so they tended to use it regularly as they could see children, whereas I was the other end of the school so we had to go whole-class or nothing. I think last year I used it five times. Every time for research purposes although maybe once we split the class in half to make a poster. Not good. There were also three computers in the library and three on the Year 3 and Year 5 landings. These tended to be used by staff or by children that were working with LSAs for example.

In the infant school, in addition to one computer per class for the teachers, there was 1 computer between two reception classrooms, 2 computers in Year 1 classrooms and 3 computers for each Year 2 classroom. There was also a Netgear Wifi router in both Year 1 and both Year 2 classrooms. The Year 2s also had 8 Toshiba netbooks. One teacher told me that the netbooks took 15 minutes to logon so he never used them.

This all meant that there is a huge lack of actual devices in the hands of children in either school with the vast majority only seeing a computer as a normal aid to learning when they reached Year 5 or 6 and even then, only a few could log on at once due to the Wifi signal. So, changes needed to be made.

I took over ICT in February 2014 and began to think of how we could approach the challenge of improving the quality and quantity of the ICt experience across the schools but also being very mindful that we needed to make an impact too. We can’t just buy things for the sake of it! I wrote about the tendering process before, but the gist is that we knew we were going to be spending a lot of money. What did we buy?

Infrastructure: First we upgraded all cabling and switches across both schools so that they were gigabit-enabled. This meant that any traffic flowing through our network would be able to flow quickly. We had quite a few mini-switches which were used to allow multiple devices to access one network point but this just caused bottlenecks. We removed all of these and added more points on the walls. This sped up logging on time for all staff instantly. We also added a fibre-optic cable to connect the two schools. We knew that we wanted one network so we needed a way for the two schools to talk to each other quickly.

Wifi: Despite not having a huge amount of wifi devices (yet), we knew that we needed to install a proper managed Wifi solution. I have used Meru in my previous two schools and never had any issues so we opted for Meru again at Riders. We also chose to go for the “ac” level rather than “n” to futureproof the system. We have added an access point in every classroom and also in both halls.

Server: Next came the server to power it all. We did have two servers but we wanted one so that we could easily manage and share files across both schools.

After some initial teething problems, mainly with whiteboards and pens not working as they should, we now have a system that we can build on. Also in the summer we ordered 60 chromebooks. To find out more about those, click here**blog post due in a few days**.

I’m hoping that now we have the tools available to us, we can start to look at using them to enhance the learning across both schools.