'Students won't miss out': Sandwell school in laptops pledge to boost online learning

A Sandwell school has refurbished old laptops ensuring pupils can learn at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

David Long, head of IT at Oldbury Academy
David Long, head of IT at Oldbury Academy

Oldbury Academy has set a goal of ensuring its pupils have access to laptops and the internet within 24 hours of self-isolating.

Around half of the Pound Road-school's 1,449 students are classed as disadvantaged.

Some children don't have laptops or can't access the internet making learning from home hard but the school has adapted to this problem.

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Assistant headteacher Patrick Dryburgh said: "If we find out a student doesn't have access to a computer, we will try and get them one within 24 hours at the school.

"The students receive the device on the day. This includes if their laptop breaks, if we find out they are working on their mom's phone, if their data has run out."

In cases where pupils can't attend school to pick up a device, staff will drop off equipment at their homes.

This level of adaption has been made around the school. Teachers have received further training to ensure they can deliver virtual lessons more efficiently.

And regarding the logistical process of finding children laptops, Mr Dryburgh said: "We have upgraded lots of old devices and computers.

"We have completely refurbished them ourselves. There is a member of staff called Dave Long who has worked relentlessly since June to make sure every student can have a device.

"If you phoned Dave now and said 'My child's device is broken, I don't have the money to pay £500 for a new device right this second', he will try to get you a device delivered to your house on the day.

"Life is hard for people in Covid."

The old laptops, known as netbooks, were due to be "retired", said Mr Long, the school's data manager.

Function

But the IT department has "repurposed" each one with new hardware allowing the laptops to run off Google Chrome.

"It means older hardware can still function on modern systems," said Mr Long.

"We have a very dedicated team of IT professionals that started planning for likely changes as far back as March.

"Whilst it was not the work we expected to be doing a year ago, we have adapted our roles in these difficult times to meet the needs of our students, ensuring their learning never stops."

The effort's of hardworking school staff has been appreciated by parents and pupils.

There were comments filed on the school's online survey where parents felt the school "couldn't do anymore" and the school "has done an excellent job", said Mr Dryburgh.

He added: "One of the things we are proud of is we have got approximately 50 per cent of our kids who you would call disadvantaged.

"We have had our vision to ensure these children would not miss any learning no matter the circumstance they would face.

"We know a lot of our kids might not have a device at home so they don't own a computer.

"Or they rely on their mobile phone to do their learning on etcetera. We have supplied over 290 devices to any student in the school who we know doesn't have a device.

"In addition, we know there are a number of students who don't internet in their household.

"We have supplied internet dongles basically so those students can access the internet and therefore can access live lessons.

"It has resulted in 85 per cent of our children will go online and still continue their learning when they go home.

"That doesn't sound that great, but national school attendance isn't too far off that at the minute.

"We have a huge success rate of children continuing to follow their curriculum even if they might not be in school."

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