Borders council leader defends £15.7m iPad handout

Councillors Robin Tatler, Shona Haslam and Sandy Aitchison launching the budget called into question today.
Councillors Robin Tatler, Shona Haslam and Sandy Aitchison launching the budget called into question today.

Scottish Borders Council leader Shona Haslam has defended the authority’s plans to hand out iPads to schoolchildren after having them called into question.

One of the flagship policies in the Conservative-independent alliance administration’s 2019-20 budget is that the Apple tablets will be bought for every pupil in years P6 to S6 for use both in school and at home.

The devices will also be given to P1 to P5 pupils at a ratio of one for every five children, although those will be kept at their schools.

The project will cost £15.7m over a 10-year contract with US technology giant Apple and Canadian firm CGI.

Mrs Haslam’s defence of the authority’s Inspire Learning programme, despite no criticism being levelled at it, was prompted by opposition councillors seeking clarification on various issues at yesterday’s full meeting of the council.

Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson asked her how much will it cost to provide wifi access for all nine of the region’s high schools, keep thousands of ipads charged and train teachers how to use them in lessons.

Tweeddale East councillor Mrs Haslam told her: “Wifi is already available in all Scottish Borders Council schools.

“The survey work is being contracted via CGI, who have appointed a contractor.  

“The council’s agreement with CGI is that initial wifi surveys will be completed by the end of next month. 

“I must admit that I am a bit confused. The opposition and administration both held budget working groups. Both groups agreed that this is a good thing to do. It reduces the poverty gap, it improves attainment, it reduces the burden on teachers and it provides digital learning access to ensure our young people are equipped for the future.

“And yet now the opposition are attempting to grill the administration on this policy.

“I had assumed that during the budget-setting process the opposition were as robust as the administration, but these questions clearly show us that they were not.

“What is very clear is that the opposition have not read the papers, do not understand the project and are intent on opposing for opposition’s sake.

“This is a policy that last month you supported, that last month was included in your budget and that last month you thought was a great idea.

“True to form, you think something completely different now.

“Time has been set aside in the worktime agreement for the first year of deployment of five hours’ dedicated training per teacher. More time will be set aside for training each year. 

“These sessions are to be scheduled in non-contact time, and no additional cover requirement or cost is expected.

“Inspire Learning is seen as a way of enhancing the process of teaching and learning. It is not envisaged that there will be a requirement for teachers to transfer existing materials in bulk.

“The iPads can be used to access existing online educational content and they can be used for sharing feedback on pupils’ work without the development of new materials.”

The first iPads will be given to teachers next month so they can get to grips with them and test the system.

S1 to S6 pupils will be the first schoolchildren in the Borders to get iPads, and they will be handed over in August.

Teachers of P6 and P7 pupils will be given iPads in April 2020, and in August of that year the rollout will be extended to P6 and P7 pupils, as well as to new S1 pupils.

An estimated 6,500 iPads will be handed out to high school students from this August, with a further 2,500 to be given to P6 and P7 pupils next year and 1,000-plus to be shared by pupils in years P1 to P5 after that.

Neither pupils nor their parents will be able to download apps or games to iPads as they will come preloaded with all the necessary apps.

All iPads will have blocks on harmful websites even when connected to wifi off school premises.

Ms Haslam added: “Inspire Learning is designed to enhance the delivery of the whole curriculum, and best practice will be developed to ensure subject teachers can collaborate effectively.

“A major benefit of the integrated learning is that teachers can easily share best practice online accessing a wide range of educational materials and do not having to develop subject-specific resources by themselves.

“There will be opportunities in the future for subject staff to collaborate between establishments and to share good practice on cross-school days and network meeting days.

She also confirmed that the cost of charging an iPad for educational use is expected to amount to £1 per year and that students will be expected to bring their iPads to school ready charged each day.