The more things change

Elaine Manton, stem co-ordinator at Loreto Grammar School, discusses the importance of keeping up-to-date with technological change

1. Have recent curriculum changes made it more difficult for schools to balance budgets?

In education, things are always changing. That it why it is important to have at least a three-year budget which is reviewed and updated regularly to take into account any changes. 

For our school, the changes we have introduced in the curriculum have involved a streamlining of ICT and Technologies at KS3 to provide a more spontaneous, and hence creative, curriculum. Hence the students actually have less curriculum time than previously with a higher proportion of practical work; as a result the facilities are under less demand. The change to strengthen curriculum time for English and Mathematics has been enhanced by our Teaching School remit and through it our School Direct programme. We have secured high quality NQTs trained within our framework.

 2. Do current budgets realistically allow schools to provide high-quality tech

We need to keep abreast of what is happening in the education sector in terms of technological changes and we do this by going to trade shows like Bett; we also need to use our own local networks to identify what other similar sized academies are doing. Recent changes for us were moving to cloud technology. These projects are very expensive and need to be built into budgets in advance.

Programming skills are becoming ever more important and a core competency for all kinds of 21st century workers. It is important to support teachers and students in coding initiatives and use of new technology, to consider new assessment approaches, to develop more awareness activities on the importance of coding in all schools, as well as promoting and scaling up any other initiative aiming at supporting coding and using high tech in schools.

Our budgets are carefully managed and focus on providing the correct resources, teaching staff and equipment to deliver fully a challenging and appropriate curriculum; much of our equipment is leased as this allows for a rapid turnover to new equipment.

3. Do you think all schools now see investing in technology as a priority? 

We are certainly treating it as a priority in order to support the curriculum and enhance pupil learning. Recent curriculum changes have forced teachers and schools to learn about and implement coding classes much sooner than they would have done if it had been an optional subject. We currently don’t operate BYOD in school, but due to recent successes in a UK competition called Teen Tech we have been lucky enough to win substantial cash prizes which have enabled us to fund tablets, LEGO Mindstorm EV3’s and, hopefully later in the year, Raspberry Pi’s to enrich both STEM in the curriculum and extracurricular STEM, with a focus this year on engineering and robotics clubs.

I feel being involved in competitions such as this, besides the financial rewards, allows the students the opportunity to be innovative, entrepreneurial, work in teams as well as collaborate with academia and industry representatives in a safe way, while protecting their Intellectual Property. But choose your competitions carefully as not all of them protect students IP the way Teen Tech does!

4. Are businesses working alongside schools able to offer top-quality service that stay within a school’s budget? 

We do have businesses working alongside us and often their key focus is helping us achieve value for money. Through experience, those consultants offering ‘extensive experience’ of the education sector or ‘educational experts’ are the most valuable as education is quite unique! We also have strong links with Manchester Museum Of Science and Industry (MOSI) and are active in inviting local STEM ambassadors into school, as inspirational role models, to encourage our students to consider careers in STEM. 

As Loreto Grammar School has been involved in a number of European projects aimed at promoting STEM school and industry collaboration, such as inGenious Science and Scientix, as well as promoting digital skills, we are fully aware of the importance of technology and digital skills for our students to become 21st century lifelong learners, as well as contributing to the future skills gap in the UK. These successes have enabled us to incorporate STEM into our KS3 curriculum from this current academic year, which I feel is a very exciting and innovative move for a girls’ grammar school.

5. What three things do schools need to think about when looking for the most cost-effective, high-quality technology? 

Speed of connectivity, capacity of data storage and security. 

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