The decision by Borders Council to provide iPads for its pupils proved to be a shrewd move when lockdown was imposed, writes Kirn McAllister 

While schools across the UK have struggled to move to home learning and adapt the curriculum, young learners in the Borders were already well-equipped to make the switch to remote learning and start learning coding ahead of schedule.

Borders Council completed its rollout of iPads to all 6000 secondary school pupils before lockdown and accelerated its coding project to the six weeks before the summer holidays.

Now the council is giving iPads to all primary five to seven children.
Paul Graham, principal teacher for maths, computing and numeracy at Kelso High school said the iPads give the broadest range of options.

“Pupils from a range of different backgrounds were super excited throughout the deployment last academic session. 

“It was particularly nice to hear from pupils who didn’t have any devices at home about how excited they were getting an iPad. Massive smiles on their faces and they were so grateful – they couldn’t believe that we were investing so much in their education and futures,” he said. 

“It doesn’t matter where pupils are, P.E field, Field trips, the classroom or at home they can use the iPad to assist their learning. They also don’t need to be connected to the internet to work and access most of the apps like Pages (word processing), Keynote (presentation tool) and so on. I also feel the options on the devices allow teachers to be creative with their delivery of lessons and we also appreciate how intuitive the interface is for teachers and pupils. 

“Once you show pupils how to do something they are so quick to pick up on it. The range of apps on the devices and I think how much a focus Apple has made on education, the iPad is designed for learning and to help learners,” he said.

The £16m Inspire Learning programme was agreed in February last year and put the council at an advantage when the coronavirus hit, as it was designed to raise attainment and support equality and inclusion.

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As home-learning became the norm, children in the region benefitted from the technology which supported better communication with teachers.
Susan Oliver, head teacher at Jedburgh Grammar School said this made it easier to ensure learning could continue for all students.

“Activities were set online, students submitted work for feedback in a variety of formats and dialogue between teachers and students was possible throughout,” she said.

“In addition to benefitting class teachers, the availability of technology meant that students could access a range of other supports during lockdown, including support from Music Instructors, Skills Development Scotland, Quarriers Resilience for Wellbeing Service and our own Pupil Support team. 

“Our young people were also able to use the iPads to engage with each other, using Teams set up within our Personal and Social Education programme. 

“Maintaining the human side of relationships was really important to us and this was definitely helped by everyone being able to use iPads to communicate.” 

The coding project was due to begin in Autumn but teachers opted to bring it forward to May.For the six weeks between May 11 and the start of the summer holidays, all secondary one and two pupils followed a coding education programme based around Swift Playgrounds from Apple’s Everyone Can Code curriculum.

“The coding project provided a great opportunity for our young people to begin learning about coding and this is something we plan to build on in the future,” Ms Oliver added.

The Inspire Learning programme is not just about giving out iPads, there is also a strong focus on training teachers in the delivery of digital learning.

“It will be our teachers and not the digital technology itself that will be the key to delivering improved educational outcomes for our children and young people,” Mark Wilson from Borders Council said.

“Our children and young people will only get the most out of digital technology when it is skilfully deployed to support their learning. It is vital therefore that we invest in our educators so they have the skills, confidence and knowledge to know when and how digital technology can be deployed effectively.”

The council investigated a number of options before opting for the Apple product, which was judged to be the best value given that it is the only platform that allows for the use of all current classroom management solutions and other requirements such as Apple classroom, Google classroom, Microsoft 365 and others. 

The fact that Apple can also support the professional development of teachers through their Apple Teacher and Apple Distinguished Educator programmes was judged a valuable feature.

Although the council wouldn’t reveal the cost of the tablets, Mr Wilson said they expected savings to come in the form of freeing up computer labs for other uses and in reducing physical printing and copying costs.

Security is a big consideration for children online, so with this in mind none of the iPads will have any social media apps installed. 

While improvements to WiFi in schools are also part of the Inspire Learning programme, families do not need to have internet access at home in order for their children to use the iPads for schoolwork.

“By issuing all of our young people with their own iPad, it removed the scenario where some families could afford devices and others could not. 

“I’m sure there are learners in other areas of Scotland who would benefit from a similar approach,” Ms Oliver said.

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How to ensure that the music never stops

Glasgow City Council is using Apple’s ‘Everyone Can Create’ curriculum as part of the city’s Glasgow CREATE programme.

As the authority continues the rollout of 50,000 iPads for students and teachers announced in August 2019, it has used Apple programmes during the lockdown period to keep learners engaged.

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CREATE is a partnership between Glasgow City Councils’ Education Services Instrumental Music Service (IMS), Youth Music Initiative (YMI) and partnership projects supporting all primary and secondary schools as well as Early Years centres.

It encourages innovative, creative and inspirational learning to raise attainment in literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing, as well as supporting teachers to deliver a high quality music curriculum. 

As part of homeschooling, the council used content from Apple’s ‘30 Creative Activities for Kids’ initiative for their ‘30 Days of Creativity’ project for children to try using an iPad or iPhone.

These activities familiarise children with tools like the camera, voice notes and Keynote, for example, by asking them to make a slow motion video of foodcolouring mixing primary and secondary colours or by recording news interviews.

Apple Teacher has also been used to support staff in learning about digital technology and how it can support teaching in the classroom and at home. 

In Glasgow, Apple Distinguished Educators working for Regional Training Centres run ‘Apple Teacher Mondays’ for virtual teacher training support – 250 teachers attended the first session. In Falkirk, £9.6m has been allocated to ‘Connected Falkirk’ with at least £3.6m devoted to buying iPads for pupils.  

At the council meeting SNP education spokesperson, Councillor Adanna McCue, said the pandemic had shown how we need to “get moving” with digital learning.

“It has highlighted that we need digital learning and we need the technology for each and every one of our learners. It will change the way our children learn in the future and will prepare them for tasks they face within the future,” she said. 

The five year programme was approved in February’s budget.

  • This article was brought to you as part of our sister title The Herald in Scotland's 'The Future Of Education' campaign in association with Apple