Reimagining education with transformational technology at Cornerstone – the Digital Academy Trust
The Cornerstone Academy Trust is recognised nationally and internationally as being at the forefront of EdTech for teaching and learning. Find out how they are harnessing technology to collaborate and develop a supportive learning environment.
David James, Head of Education, Cornerstone Academy Trust. Anthony Lees, Deputy Head of School, Westclyst Community Primary School (Cornerstone Academy Trust). Paul Beavis, Scomis Education & Product Specialist
Overview – Reimagining education with transformational technology at Cornerstone
The Cornerstone Academy Trust (TCAT) in Devon is a forward-looking, agile MAT where like-minded schools collaborate and develop in a local, supportive learning environment.
TCAT is recognised nationally and internationally as being at the forefront of EdTech. Find out how the trust is evolving their teaching and learning delivery model even further in response to new opportunities following the pandemic. And how as a DfE EdTech Demonstrator, Cornerstone can support you on your digital teaching and learning journey and how Scomis can help you achieve your vision.
About The Cornerstone Academy Trust (TCAT)
TCAT comprises four primary schools where pupils benefit from a broad and balanced curriculum, and where innovation is at the heart of teaching and learning. Its distinctive, extended curriculum opportunities provide a challenging learning environment that inspires children to achieve high standards and become life-long independent learners.
With strong partnerships locally, regionally, nationally, and globally, TCAT also provides teacher training, professional learning, leadership development and school-to-school support at both primary and secondary levels. As well as being a DfE EdTech Demonstrator, it is a Microsoft Training Academy, a DfE English Hub and a Science Learning Partnership and is also part of the West Country Computer Science Hub.
Scomis has 40 years of experience in providing ICT services to schools, so we understand the challenges you face and know the solutions that are going to help overcome them. By providing flexible access to technical expertise, we aim to help you to get the most out of your ICT and to exploit relevant, new technologies.
The last couple of years has seen a rapid adoption of cloud-based learning platforms by schools and we are pleased to have worked with so many of our customers to make them a success.
Other Related Topics
Explore how and why technology was being used before remote learning, how it’s changed, and look at some examples from Microsoft of how things might evolve in the coming years as we look towards a Hybrid Education future with Jeremie Sutton, Microsoft Senior Executive.
Lara Sorrell, Microsoft EdTech Demonstrator who builds on Jeramie’s presentation by providing a practical demonstration of how Microsoft’s future vision for EdTech is coming alive in the classroom, in the trust and school office.
Find out more about moving your MIS to Arbor with CEO and Executive Head Teacher of The Cornerstone Academy Trust, Jonathan Bishop.
Further reading and reference material
ScomisLive is recognised by ISBL as Continued Professional Development (CPD)
Offering over 20 hours of appropriate learning content for School Business Leaders. ISBL members can register their attendance against their annual CPD commitment.
Paul Beavis talks to David James and Anthony Lees
PAUL: In this session, we’re going to find out how the trust is evolving their teaching and learning delivery model in response to new opportunities following the pandemic. You’ll find out how – as a DFE and tech demonstrator – Cornerstone can support you on your digital teaching and learning journey, and how Scomis can help you achieve your vision. With strong partnerships locally, regionally, nationally and globally, TCAT provides teacher training, professional learning, leadership developments, and school-to-school support at primary and secondary levels. As well as being an EdTech demonstrator it is a Microsoft training Academy, a DFE English hub, a science and learning partnership, and it’s part of the West Country computer science hub.
David and Anthony, I’m delighted to have you at ScomisLive. The first thing I really wanted to ask you is about how you operate and a bit about some of those things that I mentioned in some of your partnerships.
DAVID: We are a relatively small MAT as we have four schools. Over the years, we’ve grown gradually and have not taken a lot of schools. We have been able to evolve our technology at a gradual pace. We started our technological journey about 25 years ago when we very simply put computers in classrooms. That’s as simple as it got. From there, we’ve built on this and we’ve started to put computers in more classrooms and over the years; we’re now at a stage where we are at a one-to-one access across the trust. We’ve used that technology to support the learning that goes on in the classrooms before the pandemic. When the pandemic struck, suddenly everyone was thrown into this virtual world that required remote teaching and learning; we were in a good position, because we were already using the technology. We were well placed to support other schools because we had already been on our journey and made lots of mistakes along the way; so we were able to say “if you are going to implement technology, probably best not to do this and look at doing things this way”.
PAUL: When the pandemic hit, were you collaborating and sharing information across all your four primaries or were they collaborating with you individually?
DAVID: This is definitely one of the benefits of using a digital platform and getting the most out of it. Across our trust, the teachers were able to plan together using the digital platform, but also, they were able to deliver the lessons across the trust. So that meant it frees up teachers to be supporting children on a more personal level as well as delivering the same education that you would have got if you were in school.
PAUL: Obviously some of the digital learning platforms that you use, such as 365, are not just used for remote teaching and learning. So, as we’re coming out of the pandemic, are you still using them for regular teaching and learning both in school and at home?
ANTHONY: Yes, absolutely. Our CEO, Jonathan Bishop, had a clear vision: he wanted us to feel like one school across four campuses. So that use of the digital platform means that, regardless of all those things that have impacted strongly in the last couple of years, we have always had that idea of scaling what we do in one site and extending it across the others. So as Dave said, we have teachers working in collaboration with their parallel year groups across the other schools using the digital platform to plan together, to co-deliver sometimes across sites, to review learning together, and really to support other teachers even though physically they’re not in the same space.
PAUL: Within the digital learning platform, are there any particular digital tools that you use a lot, embedded across all your schools?
ANTHONY: All of our schools are Microsoft showcase schools. Office 365 and Teams are definitely the tools we would mention. Of those, Teams has been the one that I think we have found game changing in the last few years, and the schools that we’ve worked with have said the same thing. That is because schools often talk about where to go next with your technology? The vision is simplification: to make the technology more seamless so it gets out of the way of teaching and learning. Teams does that compared to all of the separate disparate technologies – even within the office environment, now with Teams you can have the dialogue, the ongoing file sharing, and multiauthor. You can have the white board programme that teachers use and learners access, and it is all in one place. It means that teachers have to learn one thing and model that to their pupils or students and it is this one environment that pulls all of those different parts together.
PAUL: So, what does it look like on a daily basis for teachers and students? Are they coming into school, immediately getting their devices out of their bags, going to their desks, and signing in? Is that the way you do it?
DAVID: It could do. It all depends on what the children are doing. If the task that they’ve been asked to do requires using a computer, then they’ll access it through the computer. If anything, I think the computers need to be seen as an extra tool in the pencil case. They get their pen, they get their writing book, and they get their computer. And that sits with them on the desk and it acts as their personal white board. Whatever the teacher’s notes are, whatever the resources are that the teacher is displaying on their screen is what the child will see on their personal computer and on top of that any extra assignments that are being given to the children. The child has everything there at their fingertips. That is something that everyone should be aware of. When you go to a one-to-one programme, it is not about giving children computers to complete their work on. It’s about giving them an extra resource to support them in their learning.
PAUL: And as the work shares out that way, do the children get the opportunity to access it off site at home to reinforce their learning?
ANTHONY: Absolutely. One of the reasons that we have felt that that a good choice for schools to make is because of the universal layout on all platforms. It means that in school teachers are teaching off a Microsoft surface, wirelessly projecting to a screen. And pupils are then accessing their learning on a surface go, the smaller version. In the schools we work with, the teachers might be teaching with a touch board plugged into a laptop or desktop. Most of the time it’s a Windows device; learners might be accessing on iPads or on Chromebooks or on laptops or on any blend of those.
PAUL: Even Xbox or PlayStation?
ANTHONY: When they go home, absolutely. A smart TV, Xbox in the bedroom, the family laptop, a Kindle, anything. And because of the way that the Teams apps, particularly things like One Note, generally look the same across platforms, it’s really clear for the teacher when they’re modelling and for the learner when they’re accessing it that it looks the same. It doesn’t look different on a different type of device.
PAUL: I know from speaking to other schools that a lot of them worry about a one-to-one device, because the concern is the logistics rather than the technology. And in my day, the excuse was obviously that the dog ate your homework and that sometimes it can be a struggle to get kids to bring in pens and pencils and calculators. How do you manage if there are children who forget to bring their devices in and what happens if they don’t have access to a device for whatever reason?
DAVID: We don’t allow our devices to go home. That is an option that schools may want to consider. We didn’t go for that because we felt that it is a tool that they need in school and for that exact reason you want to avoid issues such as devices being forgotten or broken – with us, it is at the school and solely there. So we do not have that issue. But I know that lots of schools have their “bring your own device” policy set up. And when it comes to managing those devices, schools need to to be aware that if they are going to go with these policies then various factors must be considered, such as: how are we going to manage the devices? How will we keep them up to date? How are we going to ensure that they’re running well and always charged?
PAUL: Obviously, it’s taken you a while to get to where you are today. From your journey, what would you have liked to know before making this journey? Specifically, for schools which might have a learning platform which they have used for Covid but that they are not using for regular day-to-day teaching, what were the pit falls and what were perhaps some of the unexpected benefits that you found?
ANTHONY: For a lot of the schools we’ve worked with, we have shared the message that putting the technology in place is probably the minor part of what to do. Getting to a one-to-one device programme, if you commit to leasing and things like that, is ultimately the smaller part of the issue. The much bigger part – and as soon as we start to talk with schools, this is what happens – is that you go down this rabbit hole of different knock-on effects.
But it is the strategy that is the hard part. It is knowing “if we’re going to put in place non-negotiables for all our teachers, what should they be?” or “If we’re going to set out a time scale of starting from this number of devices and this level of technology to here, what does that journey look like along each step and where are we trying to get to?” Otherwise, you end up with a situation where the tail wags the dog and the technology is the driver rather than the curriculum intent becoming the driver and the technology working towards that. That, of all things, is probably the biggest thing that bears discussion with schools and making sure that leadership role is very clear on where they want to get to and why the technology is being put in.
PAUL: It sounds like you’ve obviously got a clear vision and a clear culture. It’s embedded throughout the school. Do you involve parents in those discussions as well? Because obviously they are important school stakeholders.
DAVID: Yes, of course. We try and involve the parents as much as possible. We even run training sessions for parents to make sure that they are as much up to speed with the use of technology as the children are. We want the parents to be involved with their children’s work when they are at home – and not just during the pandemic.
Going back to your previous question about any lessons learned from our journey, one thing that I think should be reassuring to everyone, whether they are at the beginning of their journey or they want to evolve it, is that we are now at a stage where the digital platform is the most robust it’s ever been. Going back 20 years, you will recall that it used to be a bit clunky. The platforms that were in place in the past would have been enough to put any head teacher or leader off from introducing a digital strategy.
But now, especially during the lockdown, all the digital platforms invested massively in making sure that they are not only robust but they are really suitable for the classroom. And in terms of technology I think we’re at a stage now where the technology has reduced in price and gone up in quality – so as a school you can feel confident in knowing that your devices are going to be quite robust and are going to last the duration.
That’s something I suppose also we can talk about, which is how long do you keep a device for, which is a question that divides people. Lots of schools might find themselves in a position where they have a pot of money that they want to spend and decide to focus on devices. Unfortunately, computers have a shelf life – usually five years at most before it really starts to get slow. So they think about replacing them. But then you need another pot of money to do that. What we would recommend to many schools is that they purchase devices and pay them off on a three-year lease, matching the warranty of the device. That way, you cut your costs and reduce the need to keep computers stable and managed.
PAUL: That is important to note, because obviously the point of a one-to-one scheme is that every child has access to a device. It doesn’t work if you have some students that do not have access. So that insurance seems key. At Scomis we do a lot of work supporting schools with learning platforms, be it Google Workspace or 365. You are right in that they are very intuitive to use these days; in the past, when they were virtual learning environments, teachers would spend more time creating the resources and creating the structure than teaching. Now it’s so quick you can only spend a few minutes prepping your resources to keep your students all busy and occupied for the whole class.
But the other thing we’ve found is although you mentioned the importance of refreshing your devices on a regular cycle, the cost of devices has come down. When it comes to things like the new cheaper surface range or Chromebooks, they are very cost effective because a lot of the work that is done on them can be done on the Cloud. We are finding that more and more schools aren’t put off by the costs these days; with leasing and other factors such as parental contribution schemes, it often makes things more affordable. But the other thing that should be mentioned is that it is no good bringing devices into a school and expecting them to work; you need the infrastructure and some foundations. Again, at Scomis we help schools with their wireless infrastructure and network infrastructure, bccause without those solid foundations you are not going to have the bandwidth inside the school to run those devices. If all the children are using the devices at the same time, they must be hammering your internet connection – do you ever have issues with things slowing down?
ANTHONY: You have hit on a good point – this is something that has changed over the past few years. Previously, it was all about the devices: you could get by with shaky WiFi or not particularly good Broadband because the majority of providers that provided curriculum content had a box that you had in your server room that cached quietly overnight, and learners could access the resource from the cached box.
Now, most of those services have gone. The boxes have been scrapped and we have gone straight to the Cloud, so learners access straight from the device to the internet. The conversation has changed very much with schools from broadband and cabling infrastructure several years ago to now being about access points. You have to have an access point in every school, and that looks different everywhere. But the overall issues are largely similar, and generally cheaper overall than it once was.
PAUL: The other bonus for learners at home is that they do not necessarily need a fancy device; as long as they have internet access and a web browser, they can sign in and access it through the web browser. It might look slightly different, but you know, they can still access that information in realtime.
DAVID: We found that during the pandemic many children were connecting via their parents’ phones. The majority of households have a mobile device that they are able to access the internet on, and this makes accessibility really easy. For people, for schools and parents, they need to consider actually there are other ways to access it. It’s not just about having an expensive computer in the home.
PAUL: You mentioned staff training earlier. Although these systems are fairly intuitive, how do you support your colleagues? How do you share good practice?
ANTHONY: In all these things, the transition to Cloud first approach has made a big difference. I have found that many schools think they need to have an army of technicians. By having young devices on a replenishment cycle, that need is eliminated – no-one is running around doing the maintenance to make these old devices limp on. As an organisation, you can focus on innovation and moving forward with the teaching and learning rather than just keeping the devices going. The same thing goes with the Cloud-based approach; taking the learning platform to the cloud rather than a server locally and the same thing with all of the curriculum content.
So, we would need someone to manage the software on our devices and come in to do training on it. That is not usually an issue, because our devices are Microsoft devices which run Windows 11. They’re running the Office suite as the desktop apps that are installed, and the Teams app as well. Everything else is through Cloud-based subscriptions. That means that the changing of users and the adding and maintaining of services is all done remotely; the support for schools can be remote as well.
To go back to the question of training and support, we have several different strategies for this. One of them is a weekly meeting with teachers at the end of the week. We have an hour’s training at the end of the school day; it will usually be in-house by one of the staff members who has a skill in some area. And it’s a pedagogical skill, to do with teaching and learning. There will be a technical element where that person is showing the rest of the team across the schools how to do something. Or it may be via one of those subscriptions where a provider is remoting in and doing a training session across the schools. So that economy of scale and approach but cloud-based in all ways makes it much easier to do that.
PAUL: You know, from Scomis’ perspective, Cloud is fantastic because, as you say, it means that we can remotely support it. Previously, we would have needed technicians on-site. For schools that do have their own in-house IT team, because it’s such a low management overhead, because all the devices are managed on the Cloud themselves and there is no need to install or call in each individual device to fix it or to deploy software, it does mean that those staff can be freed up because they’re not doing the day-to-day work; they can be freed up to support the teachers in the best use of the app.
DAVID: There’s nothing more frustrating for a teacher than to turn up to the classroom and be expected to teach using technology, and the technology not working. And that would put any teacher off. It would put any leadership team off – they would decide not to bother.
When it doesn’t work, you decide to go back to the old ways: chalkboards and pens and books. So you need the infrastructure there. You need the quality in the devices and digital platform which is there now. And then next is the staff upskilling and confidence-building. I think that many people may fear technology because of their experiences in the past. It’s clear to say now that actually we are at a point where it is the most robust and the easiest it can be to use. We need to make sure that teachers feel confident in their technology, because then it is transformational. It will not only make your teaching more enjoyable and more successful, but it will also make you feel better about technology in general.
PAUL: I must admit that years ago there was a perception by teachers that booking an IT room or using IT was a hassle. Not least because if things did not work then children would get restless. But the great thing now is that, as you said earlier, these tools now just work. They are 100% reliable. The other benefits to that are that actually it actually in some ways frees up teacher’s time, rather than just becoming another thing that they have to do. This can give you a better work/life balance – you can prep and do things from home, without necessarily needing to be on a school site. The fact that as a teacher now you can remote in from home and conduct a parents’ evening rather than stay in a cold school building until 8pm is a real game changer. This may be one of the greatest benefits of the pandemic – a lot of schools have found that this isn’t as scary as they might have thought.
When it comes to the children, do you have any issues with them? Are they digital native?
DAVID: They are the least of your worries. As a school leader I can say for certain that the vast majority of children are incredibly confident in the use of technology. I think we all see it when we go to restaurants; children have iPads from a young age. Whether that is right or wrong, it is used as a tool to entertain. Already, children understand the use of touch screens. That is only going to evolve as they get older. We have found that throughout all of our schools, the children are incredibly confident even with new technology. They find a new device and they will press the buttons and find out before most of their teachers do what everything does
PAUL: We actually often come across examples where the students are helping the teachers. Often it used to be the case where staff have been worried that they might do something wrong, or break the device that they are using. But the nice thing about these digital learning platforms is that you cannot break them. As a teacher, you can ask students if they have a better idea of doing things and learn from them. Do you do anything with the idea of students supporting other students when it comes to using tech?
ANTHONY: Absolutely. You hit on a good point there, which is that your pupils know if you are pretending, if you are not being yourself and being open and pretending to know more about the technology. Saying that you want to go on this journey with them pulls them on side more than anything else, because there is always that pupil that knows a bit more than you do about whatever you are using. Leveraging that is powerful. We have used students to adopt that kind of digital leader role where they take that responsibility for helping other classes or even doing some of the regular jobs that need to be done across the school that do not necessarily need a technician; even things like paper supplies and printer cartridges and that kind of thing, for example. But going and talking to the librarian about updating the PowerPoint on the library screen with the new book recommendations – all of those things that your students really want to get involved in and have ownership of – that kind of task that really moves the organisation forwards and puts technology at the heart of teaching and learning, but in a very purposeful curriculum driven way.
PAUL: Do you ever have any issues when it comes to, for instance, students plagiarising each other’s work? It is very easy to share documents and hand them in electronically. How do you cope with that?
DAVID: There is an education element to that. Right from the off, when we talk about teaching, e-safety, and the and appropriate use of technology, plagiarism comes under that. It is absolutely something that we want children to understand; what is right and what is wrong when it comes to copying and pasting. Because there are so many situations in school where we tell children: be quiet, do your writing on your own, don’t talk to one another – this is your piece of work. As soon as they get out in the real world, this changes to: I want you all to work together as a team and share ideas and come up with a plan. There have to be opportunities for children to do that within school. So they need to know how to communicate, how to collaborate, and what work they can share with each other. It is all down to education. You need to teach children what is plagiarism and what isn’t.
PAUL: And if you have got the whole class working collaboratively, do you use the built-in insight tools so you can check that all the students are actually participating rather than just your usual suspects who will do a lot of the work and the others who keep their head down and stay quiet? Do you use things like insights or other tools in Teams to check on that?
ANTHONY: Yes, we do. We consider using those tools to be the bread and butter of the teacher’s role. In all these things you just mentioned, training staff is the most important thing so that they are confident enough to do them. We would consider that there are probably four big things your learning platform needs to do. The first is about communication and being able to have dialogue, maybe in Teams channels and chat with learners and between peers, but also between staff.
We would want to be able to file share and have the files accessed by only the people that should have permission to those files, including multiauthorring. We would want the teacher to be able to share the learning that is on the front screen all day every day, and for learners to be able to access that, and we would want the teacher to be able to set more formal assignment-type work where the platform handles the heavy lifting of giving it to learners, them working on it, and the teacher grading it based on criteria set in advance. Those four key things make your learning platform a really robust way to not replace the classroom, but support it.
And for us, the phrase that we use over and over with the schools that we work with is that we want to take the friction out of the move from face-to-face teaching and learning to any sort of blended or virtual provision. The big question to answer is: how are you well-placed to do this as an EdTech demonstrator? We had in place a system where Teams was already in use, OneNote was the class whiteboard and the textbook that the teacher put everything in, and that learners then, whenever they happen to have a device – whether it’s in a one-to-one setting, whether it’s a few device that’s roam around classrooms, whether it’s a bank of devices at the back – whatever that model looks like at whatever stage in your journey, that kind of provision can support that and scale to match the hardware and the intention.
That’s where we were well-placed at the start. That’s where we are fast-tracking schools to get to. It is important that we impress upon them not have a completely different approach to teaching and learning when someone is off ill or isolating or at a time of lockdown, should that happen again. Instead, let’s develop a general teaching and learning routine that means that when some learners are not synchronous at the same time or not physically in the same space, the model of teaching and learning does not change. It is just the equipment needed to deliver it might have to be tweaked slightly. That means that teachers are not suddenly having the rug pulled out from them when some children are absent.
DAVID: Also, in terms of engagement, using insights to track when children are engaging and so on – that should be a teacher’s natural instinct. But if children are not engaging, maybe it is something to do with the quality of the resource – and that is where the technology can allow for so much: so many interesting videos and pictures and activities that are all interactive. All part of the child’s assignment. As long as you can engage that child with interesting work, you will have less need to look on insights because you can guarantee the children will be on that all the time and wanting to learn.
PAUL: The thing we often come across when we are talking to schools and when we deliver training is that when schools first started using these learning platforms themselves, it all ended up being Word documents and spreadsheets. It was not particularly stimulating. I think that this is the trick some schools are missing. They have come on a long way now. It is about using, as you say, programs like OneNote as a digital classroom. The teacher can upload the resources and students can have their own pages and obviously the students can access it at any time. That’s a cost saving to a school. You know you’re not printing booklets.
The other thing is that it is more interesting. It is more engaging and more interactive. When schools sometimes first use these learning platforms, it is like using the school network; we will put a document on a central location and people will all access it. And they can save it into their own area. One of the huge benefits of this system is, as you say, is to actually get staff and students or the teachers to use the automatic work flow. So there is no need to tell students where to look or where to put a document; it gets pushed out to them as notifications. As long as they sign on, they can see what they have to do. Teachers have an overview at all times who has done the work and who has not. There are all sorts of tools to help students now.
ANTHONY: Amazing tools in the Office suite especially. And that could be with their CND. It could be with English as an additional language. There are so many tools to help, with reading progress being just one of them. In fact, we offer lots of support through our EdTech demonstrator programme on supporting schools using the SEND tools.
PAUL: I was going to ask you, where should schools go for support?
DAVID: In relation to those tools particularly, there are a lot of products out there. We have found that by using things that Dave just talked about, those tools that are baked into the learning platform and those programmes, that do not need any additional subscription or any downloaded plug-in, every learner has it already and it’s seamless. And by the teacher modelling that – using it regularly, using immersive reader to change things about the text, highlight verbs, highlight adjectives, make it read at a certain speed, and so on – it takes that stigma away from the learners using it. All those tools like PowerPoint being able to translate for you – a learner can have that on their device and as the teacher talks, it will translate it into whatever their first language is. They can open things like immersive reader and have that experience all the time. Because the teacher makes it acceptable by using it occasionally themselves, every learner knows how to use it. Nobody is stood out by being the one person choosing to use it themselves.
PAUL: I must admit those tools are ideal for SEND students, but also for mainstream staff and students as well. I use a lot of those tools myself. The voice dictation, the fact that I can dictate into a document, it will do the spell check and I can turn it into a different language.
DAVID: The captions from Teams calls and PowerPoint – they are really helpful. And like Anthony said, it is all part of the tools that they are currently using and most people just are not aware of it. Yes, you can register for support. We are one of those EdTech demonstrators – there are about 35 in the country. If you search for “Cornerstone EdTech demonstrator”, we will be able to help and support in a variety of ways, ranging from the strategy piece that leaders need support with down to supporting teachers in the classroom – but also the technical side of what happens in the classroom. We do a variety of things such as audits, where we come into school and actually unpick with teachers and with Sencos what the next step should be. A whole variety of support. It is fully funded and worth applying for. I suppose there is one thing we cannot do – we can certainly offer advice, but the infrastructure side is over to you guys.
PAUL: Yes exactly. We also do audits. What we have found is that a lot of schools set up their digital learning platforms in a hurry because of the pandemic. Obviously, what we do is we make sure that they’re set up in a structured and safe way, because if a school has had to fudge something up then we will check that the permissions are right. Again, it gives staff the confidence if you set up the rules and the policies and the back end, the teacher doesn’t have to worry about it; they can’t do anything too bad because it’s been set up in a safe manner.
Obviously, we will help schools with 365 or Google work space. We’re agnostic, but also with the device management. I think the device management is the really key bit now. There is such a low technical overhead. When you set these devices up, they are managed devices. The other huge benefit is that if the students are taking a school owned device offsite and it is managed, it can be locked down. Students will not be able to bypass things or install their own software; it is a safe learning environment.
I think we have probably got a couple of minutes to take a couple of questions.
We have talked about leasing. On the topic of one-to-one devices, someone asks: how can you afford it?
DAVID: That is a really good question. I suppose the answer is, like I said before, not to be put off. The price of devices has come down massively. You do not always need to go for the most expensive option available.
At the same time, it’s understanding what one-to-one actually means. You could have a bank of only five computers in your classroom that children can work one-to-one on rather than buying everyone a computer and having to manage that all in one go. By all means, that is the ultimate goal for some schools. But by starting off small it is certainly a way to make it more affordable.
Also, in terms of how you can buy big interactive screens that cost several thousand, one method we have frequently used to save money is to simply give the teacher the tablet that they are able to digital ink on. That becomes the interactive part of the technology. The screen behind can be a very basic big 75-inch TV that you can buy from the local Currys store for a relatively cheap price. Then you can wirelessly project and the teacher is free to roam around the class, face the children as they’re teaching, write on the board, using their tablet screen. It transforms education – it takes it to that next level. By doing all that, you could probably kit out a teacher for £1,500. Use the money you would have spent thousands on the interactive board and put it towards some computers.
PAUL: Great answer. We mentioned digital tools before; we touched on voice dictation and the screen reader – any other particular tools that you would suggest for SEND students?
DAVID: There are so many. Get in touch and we can support you massively. One of our EdTech specialists is one of the SENCOs in our schools. He has an insight into so many tools that are there – every time I hear him speak about them, I’m always blown away. They are part of the technology and ready to be used.
PAUL: One final question, from someone asking how schools deal with internet safety considerations when devices are being used by students off-site. I guess what they mean by this is in school you have full internet, but at home it’s traditionally unfiltered.
ANTHONY: Really good question. I think the filtering is only part of the story. In school, yes, we have filtering. We tend to err on the side of less filtering rather than more, in that if we block out most of the internet our learners aren’t really learning to manage their browsers in a safe environment. That does not prepare them for adult life.
On the other hand, monitoring is an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to supporting learners. On all our devices we are running software locally that key logs anything that is typed by a staff member or a learner. It goes through the database of that provider and when it hits a key word that is a concern, depending on the severity of that key word we get an email or phone call depending on how concerning it is. And that means that the teacher can then address it with those learners in the same way that when pupils fall out in the playground. The most powerful form of learning is to unpick what happens in the real world.
Equally, with Teams it is possible to have server-side monitoring and this has given us an interesting insight into the dialogue of our pupils at home, because we find that lots of them are doing online gaming out of school, which is something that has been encouraged a lot through lockdown, to have that socialisation. But they are using Teams as their method for chat and communication while they do that, and because that’s monitored on the server side rather than on the device, we therefore can access those conversations and help them unpick some of their social issues when they fall out, and when they are recommending things to each other than maybe are not age appropriate – that kind of thing.
ANTHONY: We take that view that these sort of things are going to happen and so it is better that it happens on a school device where you can address it rather than it going underground to something like a different chat app that you don’t know about.
PAUL: Fantastic. Well, I think we’re going to have to call it a wrap there. Thank you for joining me, David and Anthony. I’ve enjoyed our conversation.