Helping to set up devices for home learning

Since lockdown it’s become apparent that there is a digital divide between those that have home internet access and devices and those that don’t. Chris Tolson, the Headteacher of Academy St James was keen to take action to put resources in place to address this. Chris said,

” When we closed school in March there were so many problems to face. One which I had not really understood was the difficulty our children and families would have with connecting to their online learning. Disadvantaged children and families were further disadvantaged by the lack of wifi and devices to use at home. This made me really sad and also determined to put it right.”

School had thirty Chromebooks that Chris was keen for some of his most vulnerable children to be able to access work at home. I work with the school as their Educational Technology consultant from Curriculum Innovation at Bradford Council. Over the last year I’d used my knowledge as an Authorised Google Education Trainer I’d helped the school with their use of G Suite on their Chromebooks and their iPads. Chris, myself and Primary Technology, the school’s tech support service, were keen to work together to set up Chromebooks and connectivity. I’ve written the main things we all worked together to do which I hope will be useful to other schools.

Chris had managed to secure funding to buy some dongles for connectivity from the John Laing Charitable Trust through Teach First. The question was could we get any. The first calls to a number of suppliers told us there was a scarcity of dongles due to the lockdown in China. Primary T managed to secure some and we all three parties discussed if dongles or MiFi was a better solution. We decided to go for MiFi as this would allow more than one device to connect at once as some of the households had more than one child who attended school.

We were keen to make sure that MiFi units would be used safely and effectively. We all worked together to make sure that this worked by carrying out the following steps.

  1. We installed the Smoothwall Monitor Chrome extension on the admin console. This meant the school safeguarding team would receive safeguarding related alerts from key strokes and screen captures.
  2. We installed the Smoothwall Cloud Filtering extension which ensures all internet access from the Chromebook used the schools filtering polices giving children the same protection they would get in school.
  3. Primary T monitored the amount of data the MiFi units used to make sure each user was using the data effectively.

We also discussed what further settings we could deploy through the G Suite admin console to allow safe and effective use. Lots of these settings were already in place in school. Below is a list of the main things we set up.

Device settings

  1. In the device settings we set forced reenrolment so if a device is wiped it simply re applies all the settings when it connects to the internet.
  2. We updated the disabled device return instructions.
  3. We disabled guest mode.
  4. We restricted sign in so users could only sign in with a Google account and not a personal Gmail.

User Settings

  1. We uploaded a custom wallpaper with the school logo and contact details for school safeguarding teams. This also had some very basic online safety advice.
  2. We disabled incognito mode.
  3. We disallowed the clearing of browsing data.
  4. We deployed two pages to load on startup and as the Home pages. They were the school’s home learning page and the school contact page.
  5. We forced Google Safesearch (although the Smoothwall filtering would force this and other policies).
  6. We deployed a number of bookmarks such as Class Dojo, TT Rockstars, Purple Mash, Education City, Wow Science, Teach Your Monster to Read, EdShed, Phonics Play, Kahoot and BBC Bitesize to name a few.

We also created an acceptable use document for parents and children that focussed on online safety and taking care of the device.

Chris commeted further

With the help and support of Tim we managed to get support we needed. He advised us on what options we had- we looked at different connectivity ideas and decided that MIFI was the best option as it allowed multiple users. Tim trained all the staff in google classroom and then supported us with how to get these machines into houses.  We have also purchased 15 more chrome books too which Tim helped us source. The support and guidance Tim has given has been fundamental in getting our children the devices they deserve and access they need. We are now seeing more pupils use their chrome books and produce better quality outcomes. I will be forever grateful for his support and help in such a difficult time.”

Out of great difficulty sometimes creativity and determination can succeed- Tim has provided this and allowed us to turn a dream into reality. Our pupils and staff will be eternally grateful as will I .

Chris Tolson and his incredible team at Academy St James have worked tirelessly to provide food and accessibility to education for all families in the school. Primary Technology and Curriculum Innovation have worked closely with the school to do our bit. I’m happy to talk further about how we have helped and I’m sure Chris is too.

Tim Bleazard

Tim has over 20 years experience as a primary school teacher, twelve of them as an ICT co-ordinator. In 2009 he was seconded to Challenge City Learning Centre and used the opportunity to assist schools in their understanding and use of a range of new and emerging technologies. He joined the team as a Curriculum Innovation Consultant in 2012. Tim is a qualified E-Safety Mark Assessor, CEOP Ambassador, Apple Professional Development Authorised Trainer and a Google Certified Teacher. Tim’s role includes evaluating a range of mobile devices (Apple, Android and Microsoft) and advising on their appropriate use in schools. Tim is passionate about blogging, programming and using creative digital technology such as video, animation, photography and audio to raise attainment across the curriculum. He leads the very successful ‘Media Literacy Leaders’ project in partnership with Bradford UNESCO City of Film, the British Film Institute and Cape UK.

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