Moving to Cloud Computing at St Thomas's Church of England Primary School
The methodology adopted for this case study closely followed that set out in the Research_Strategy. In this instance the headteacher is also the ICT coordinator.
Overview of the school
The school is a single-form entry primary school (4-11 years) in the small market town of Kendal, Cumbria (within Cumbria Local Education Authority). There are 203 children on roll, 10 teaching staff and 8 part time teaching assistants. The school’s catchment is predominantly from a large Local Authority housing estate with further housing provided by local housing associations. There are high levels of rural poverty and above average deprivation indicators. 25% of pupils are eligible for FSM. A number of pupils receive SEN support and there are 38% of pupils on the SEN register.The school was built to a standard 1960s two-storey design. Whilst the classrooms are relatively modern the school has a lot of structural faults due to poor initial materials used (including asbestos tiles) and design flaws such as a huge flat roof which has led to damage to ICT equipment and cabling through water ingress in the past. Additional spaces include a library, ICT suite and two small withdrawal spaces.
Description of ICT infrastructure and resources
Overall infrastructure and resources
The school is hard-wired throughout and has a new Aerohive Wi-Fi that provides connectivity both within the school building and in the school grounds. The 10MB Internet connection is provided and cached/filtered/monitored by the RBC. An elderly server now only runs the administration PCs and is only retained because the school uses SIMS which is server-based. The school will move to a cloud-based MIS (probably ScholarPack) if they are confident it will do the assessment tracking that they require and at that point become server-free.
The school has 31 Chromebooks that are stored centrally in a charging trolley, plus two that are used by the head teacher and the pastoral support manager. There is a rota allocating the class-set to all classes once a week plus flexible non-timetabled slots when small numbers of the devices can be used by a class.The Chromebooks were purchased via C-Learning Ltd and installed by an independent ICT consultant. C-Learning and the consultant liaised with Google to obtain a charging trolley within the price of the devices. This is the standard education deal in the USA but not in the UK and made a difference to the viability of the solution for this financially-challenged primary school. Solutions Inc supplied and installed the Aerohive Wi-Fi system.As part of this initiative the school has cancelled the server maintenance contract saving £6k pa. The Chromebooks and Aerohive wireless controller are both managed by the head teacher (who is the ICT coordinator) via cloud-based consoles/dashboards.Printing from the Chromebooks requires a specific wireless printer that the school has not yet been able to afford to purchase but will do in January following a PTFA donation.
Overview of work/activity/project
The initiative has moved the school from ICT lessons in a suite of slow, unreliable, desktop PCs where pupils had to work two or three to a machine to a place where every pupil in the class has their own mobile device that boots to the cloud in a few seconds. A key driver for the school was the acknowledgement of the fact that they were spending their ICT budget just to maintain an ageing and unreliable computer system; “to stand still” in the head teacher’s words. The school considered various options to move out of this situation; the Chromebook solution appealed because of the pricing and robustness of the device. The school had looked at iPads but had decided against them because they were relatively expensive, maybe not sufficiently robust for primary-age pupils, lacked a physical keyboard and because the Apps are on the device rather than being associated with the pupil’s profile as with a cloud-based solution. The school was guided by an independent ICT consultant who had personal experience of the first UK education Chromebook installation (at a Primary Academy). The head teacher made a fact-finding visit to this school and together with the consultant reported back to the Governors who supported the decision to purchase the Chromebooks. This took place over the Spring/Summer term 2012. Initially the school considered the Chromebook leasing option but that offer was withdrawn from the UK market in the Summer so the school purchased the devices outright.
The frustrations of the desktop solution meant that teachers and pupils welcomed the Chromebook solution. There were a few installation problems that were quickly overcome and the initial enthusiasm has developed into established whole-class planning to use the Chromebooks to teach both ICT skills and to support learning across the curriculum. Teachers and pupils report that the pupils are strongly motivated and engaged in learning with the Chromebooks. The particularly welcome features are:
- pupils’ work is automatically saved to Google Drive, it can no longer be ‘lost’ and can be viewed/developed at home from any computer that has Chrome installed;
- pupils have a device each and the devices can be brought into the classroom so becoming an integral part of the class learning resources;
- each pupils’ profile is unique to them, their Apps and Chrome bookmarks are instantly available when they log-on.
Pupils’ behaviour with the Chromebooks is exemplary and they demonstrate a strong understanding of ‘care for property’ in the way in which they collect the devices from the charging trolley and return to their classrooms. The Chromebooks encourage pupils to be ‘on task’ and behaviour in lessons using them is improved and more work achieved. The Reception class is trialling a home-school diary via Google Drive and pupils across the school enjoy sharing their work with their parents and being able to continue to work at home.
Key lessons learned
Training for teachers is paramount – both before introducing to the pupils and on an on-going basis over the first year of use.
The requirement for a specific wireless printer is a key lesson learnt in the eyes of pupils and teachers.
When encouraging pupils to access school work at home there is a need to support parents to understand issues of e-safety.
“Google Geniuses”, pupils trained to support all Chromebook use, are a good idea providing effective support for pupils and teachers in each KS2 classroom.
Technical issues that emerged during the Chromebook installation were:
- Port 123 (atomic clock) needs to be open so that the Chromebooks update automatically following changes made on the cloud-based console.
- Port 1221 needs to be open to allow access to the cloud-based Aerohive dashboard to manage the Wi-Fi.