Providing access to remote learning via digital devices

Access to digital devices in education has been the subject of much media scrutiny in recent weeks. After England moved into its third national lockdown on 5 January, all schools and colleges are closed to most pupils and educators have switched to remote learning.

The government’s priority is to get pupils back in the classroom “as soon as possible”. However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted that schools will not reopen until the success of lockdown measures can be assessed whilst being mindful of any other possible changes in the coronavirus pandemic.

At present, schools are restricting classroom places to children of key workers and those deemed vulnerable. This has prompted concerns that some schools are being inundated with pupils without laptops, which is impacting their ability to keep school attendance figures low to limit the spread of the virus. In the longer term, the learning gap between children from different social backgrounds may widen and academic futures may be hindered, unless more parents have access to digital devices to support home learning activities.

1.5 millions pupils still lacking access to a device

According to recent government figures, an extra 300,000 laptops and tablets have been purchased to help disadvantaged children in England learn at home, in addition to the 560,000 devices that had been given out to schools in 2020. But Ofcom estimates there are up to 1.5 million pupils without suitable digital devices in their homes, forcing some secondary school students to write essays on their mobile phones while parents of two or more children are faced with difficult decisions about who gets access to the home’s only digital device.

The BBC’s national ‘Make a Difference Give a Laptop campaign’ is working with local charities to collect and provide free laptops to children who need them. Local businesses throughout the UK have also launched initiatives to donate unwanted laptops and IT equipment. Furthermore, major mobile network operators are allowing families to continue to learn from home without using any of their mobile data allowance until the end of the academic year.
Whilst these generous schemes will take some of the strain off schools and overwhelmed parents, schools are still struggling to access devices for their students. A problem that will continue long after lock down ends.

1-2-1 learning schemes – a smarter solution to a longstanding problem?

Getting pupils access to equipment for remote learning has always been challenging, even more so in current times. As a result more schools are seeking solutions, either to make up the shortfall in the number of devices they have been allocated, or to overcome concerns about how they manage the hardware and future-proof their IT infrastructure in subsequent years. Where funding is available, schools are having to choose between the provision of devices over the training and support of teachers who are new to online teaching and the upgrade of WiFi access to ensure a robust delivery of the service.

To bridge the technology gap, some alternative finance specialists offer 1-2-1 / bring your own device (BYOD) schemes to enable schools to support digital learning by allowing parents to spread the cost. Under these schemes, schools can select a range of devices from one of the finance provider’s approved suppliers or an existing supplier of their choice. These are then put into a branded online catalogue to allow parents to select the device best suited to their child’s needs. Parents can then spread the cost over time via monthly direct debit and the collection of payments can be managed by the finance company in conjunction with the online portal provider - as offered through the partnership between Wesleyan Bank and parent portal system specialist, edde education.

There are various benefits to 1-2-1 / BYOD programmes. Pupils can gain access to devices quickly and it also offers a way for parents to spread the cost over time, crucially helping to free up a school’s budget for other important areas. For peace of mind, there is the ability to access additional services including insurance, device management and monitoring to ensure that equipment is protected and used safely inside and outside of the classroom.

Schools may also elect to use the pupil premium to subsidise equipment for families who are experiencing financial hardship. This can mean that a pupil can have access to a device for around £10 a month including cover, which compares competitively to current retail prices. Depending on the equipment supplier and the decision making process, schemes can be established in as little as three weeks.

A case in point – St Ambrose future-proofs its IT infrastructure and transforms student learning

St Ambrose Barlow Roman Catholic High School and 6th Form College (St Ambrose) wanted to give its students access to the latest technology, without being constrained by the time and costs of such a project. St Ambrose initially piloted Google Workspace, a collection of cloud computing, productivity and collaboration solutions through its IT managed service provider RM Education. The school concluded that lessons needed to be conducted in the school’s ICT suite and that all students needed access to their own laptops to take full advantage of the technology’s capabilities.

To raise awareness of its technology ambitions and bring teachers, students and parents together, the school launched ‘Ambrose Anywhere’, a tailored Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) scheme with the goal of creating a collaborative 1-2-1 learning environment for all students. But in order to succeed, St Ambrose needed to overcome its funding challenges to make it simplistic and affordable for students to adopt the Chromebooks device and enhance the school’s IT infrastructure.

To overcome reductions in capital funding and achieve more with less, St Ambrose met with RM’s recommended financing and leasing partner, Wesleyan Bank to review its options. Wesleyan Bank created a bespoke qualifying, operating lease plan in line with Government legislation to allow parents to spread the cost of the Chromebook over a three-year period. As the tailored finance solution forms part of a three-year rolling programme, St Ambrose has the flexibility to upgrade the Chromebooks at the end of this period or switch to a device from another ICT manufacturer.

“Together, RM and Wesleyan Bank provided us with the freedom to access the technology resources the school needed immediately without having to pay a significant lump sum upfront and dip into vital cash reserves, significantly contributing to the success of the Ambrose Anywhere scheme. Some finance solutions can be confusing but Wesleyan Bank took the time to thoroughly explain all of our options which made for a quick and simple process,” comments Malcom Walker, Business Manager at St Ambrose.

An increasing number of schools in the UK have adopted Chromebooks integrated into G-Suite for Education to create a seamless transition to student resources with applications and school work securely stored in the cloud. Thanks to the support of RM and Wesleyan Bank, St Ambrose has fulfilled its ambition to join these leading schools by transitioning over 250 students from consumers of information to creative producers and owners of knowledge.

The feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive. From the ability to access and edit their school work from anywhere there is an available internet connection, to receiving timely and formative feedback from teachers.

“This is just the start of our technology journey and we are already looking forward to the next exciting chapter of St Ambrose’s future in partnership with RM and Wesleyan Bank. Transforming our IT environment is assisting our students and teachers to embrace transformative uses of technology, enhancing students’ engagement and promoting the development of self-directed and life-long learners,” concludes Malcolm Walker.

As a key partner of Wesleyan Bank, RM have worked with their supply chain to ensure good stock of devices across the next few months, including thousands of Chromebooks available within January and February.

Are you struggling to access devices for your students?

If you would like more information please contact our subject matter expert Lindsay Screen.

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