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The great laptop debate
Gerald Haigh
looks at laptops
in schools – the
pitfalls, the
benefits, and the secrets to
T IS increasingly common so see portable
computers (laptops, mini-laptops, handheld
devices) in use in school, supplementing or
sometimes replacing the traditional computer
suite. Usually, they stay in school, handed out
for lessons, then stored in a charging rack or
With care, and very firm and clear management
routines, that will work well. What, though, about
the apparently obvious next step, which is simply to
issue the laptops to the students? This hands over the
responsibility and ensures that they have home access
to their work and to the school’s bank of resources.
Can that work? Or is it a recipe for disaster? It is not
difficult to find one sort of answer to that. Just look
at some of the posts on EduGeek and other online
“Steer well clear,” writes one fed-up practitioner. is more constructive than uttering a sentence with the and more schools are looking at creative cross-curricular their other stuff. They also take up too much room on
“They cause far more problems than they solve.” words “touch” and “bargepole”? work, projects, investigations – and good, accessible a student’s desk. Marsh went for a mini-laptop. There
Another adds: “Laptops in the hands of students To begin with, everyone needs a back-to-earth reminder ICT is the lifeblood of that sort of curriculum. are more and more of them around. Some schools go
equals nightmare for technical support.” that the laptop is not an end in itself. If it is chosen because The effect is well described in a report on ICT across smaller still, opting for a handheld device. There is no
That said, there certainly are schools where the it seems neat, cool and cutting-edge, the novelty will their school written by a group of students at Bowring one-size-fits-all answer here. The choice has to line up
policy works, and as time goes on there will surely soon wear off and be replaced by escalating problems. Community Sports College in Knowsley. with your vision, your curriculum, and your students.
be more. The growing choice of mini-laptops – ultra- (Obvious really, but it is amazing how many hard-headed They said: “If the end product of the project is a After that, the first thing is to realise that you are
mobile PCs and of even smaller hand-held devices teachers and heads are seduced merely by the look and presentation or photo story it makes you plan your moving into a different sort of ICT world. The devices,
– will tip the balance for some. feel of a well designed piece of technology). work and think carefully about what you need for your instead of being neatly tucked away in a suite, are
So, when someone in your school says, “I think we So, as you surely knew all the time, the real starting presentation. integrated into everything that happens across the
should give them all a laptop”, what can you say that point has to be the learning needs of the children. More “If you have to create a podcast in French, you must school. The technician workload is hugely increased, as
make sure your accent is good and that what you are is the need for policies and procedures around handling
about to say makes sense.” the devices and their maintenance. Most importantly
To get that level of engagement, you clearly do there is a need to provide staff not only with technical
want your students to have on-demand access to the support but with creative ideas about using ICT in their
technology, including the ability to continue their work lessons.
at home – collaboratively if needs be. Jo Verrier, at New Line Academy in Kent, emphasises
eacher Support
Even then, though, it may not be appropriate to leap that all of this calls for specialist leadership at senior
straight to the “laptops for all” solution. There are many management level – and it cannot easily in her opinion,
examples of schools (Shireland Academy in Sandwell be added to the portfolio of a busy deputy head.
or Broadclyst Primary in Devon for example) where Her title, director of mobile devices and e-learning,
an exemplary level of “anytime/anywhere learning” is indicates how it is done at her school. Among the
achieved by making sure students’ homes are equipped discoveries that she made was that it is not enough
with the necessary technology, and, crucially, parents to train staff in group twilight sessions, because those
are supported in its use. colleagues most in need of help are the ones who are
Talk to schools like this, ask about what they did too shy to ask.
and how, and you may find that from where you “You have to do one-to-one coaching with those that
currently are, something like that is the next logical step lack confidence,” Ms Verrier explained.
before moving to student laptops. There are possible One-to-one coaching, too, is the way to bring the
compromises, too. students on board. That is why it took so long to give
Business, Administration and Finance.
The local authority in Knowsley, for example, has out the laptops to two year groups at Marsh. Each
used laptops as “playing-field levellers” – given to student individually was paired up with their laptop, to
A Diploma for future leaders to follow.
students where there is no broadband at home. The ensure that it worked and that they could log on.
numbers are small, and the management problems Even then, they did not take their laptops away.
correspondingly are kept in check. Only when that induction process was complete
So hesitating about laptops is not foot-dragging, were the devices actually issued to the students – at
If you’re involved in teaching the new Equip yourself in advance
for this is not an area for hasty decisions. It is more a special evening with their parents. This provided
AQA-City & Guilds Diploma in Business,
a matter of allowing technology to be learning-led. an opportunity for teachers to talk about parental
The whole day sessions will enable you
Administration and Finance, plan for the
For many schools, the move to portable devices will engagement with learning and for the parents to sign
to be fully prepared and will provide you certainly come – but by then, if they have done things a home-school agreement covering use and care of
perfect ‘start up’ by attending one of
with free resource materials.
in the right order, it will seem like the natural way to the devices. Emphasising the engagement of parents
our FREE Preparing to Teach meetings.
give students the best possible continuous on-demand in children’s learning goes a long way to addressing
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access, at home and at school, to their work and to the concerns about security and safety.
Don’t miss our expert help in 6 key
proving to be very popular.
information they need. When that point is reached – or Engaging parents, though, inevitably brings a call
rather when forward planning shows clearly that it is, to extend support and advice to them, by workshops,
Nationwide venues
say, a year away – then is the time to look at “portables phone or drop-in clinics. This, too, needs to be foreseen
for all”. and planned for.
London, Birmingham/Bournville,
A year is how long it took at the new Marsh In the end, then, the fundamental lessons are those
Academy in Kent. When Marsh opened in September we have encountered many times throughout the history
Plymouth, Warrington, Notts/Derby,
2007, planning for a more personalised, project-based of ICT in schools – do not put your faith in technology.
and Newcastle upon Tyne - from 26th
key stage 3 curriculum began immediately, and a year Concentrate first on the learning and use technology
later in September 2008, it began to be rolled out, to support it. And finally, as with any major ICT
beginning with year 7. innovation, plan well ahead, aim to take everyone with
Don’t miss these FREE meetings.
The plan from the start was that the curriculum you step-by-step, do small scale trials, and, above all,
would require children to have their own portable resist those who will urge you go more quickly. SecEd
Book online at:
devices. Research on the choice of device began soon
These free meetings
after the academy opened. When the decision was made • Gerald Haigh, once a teacher and headteacher, has
answer questions
the laptops were first trialled with small groups, and studied and written about school management for many
teachers have
Or telephone 01423 534385 today. then a gradual roll-out to two year groups, student by years. In recent times he has worked on case studies of
student, took from summer to autumn 2008. innovative schools for the National College for School
That degree of preparation is necessary if everyone Leadership, HTI National Leadership, and Microsoft’s
and are part of our ongoing
– staff, students, families – is to be kept on board. The Innovative Schools Programme, where there are
support programme.
overwhelming message from Marsh is to resist all detailed studies of the schools mentioned here.
pressure to rush the process (and pressure there will be).
Marsh began with unhurried and thorough research,
Further information
visiting as many schools as possible. They soon found • EduGeek:
that full-size laptops were not going to work. They are • Microsoft’s Innovative Schools Programme:
just too heavy and bulky for students to carry with all
AQA_C&G_BAF.indd 1 31/3/09 09:51:12
SecEd • April 2 2009 11
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