Questions being asked about plans to hand out 10,000 iPads to Borders youngsters

Earlston High School pupils and teachers with council leader Shona Haslam and councillor Carol Hamilton, executive member for children and young people, at an iPad rollout preview session held earlier this month.
Earlston High School pupils and teachers with council leader Shona Haslam and councillor Carol Hamilton, executive member for children and young people, at an iPad rollout preview session held earlier this month.

Opposition councillors are demanding to know more about Scottish Borders Council’s plans to hand out iPads to every child in the region aged 11 to 17.

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

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

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

Now, councillors in the authority’s Scottish National Party-led opposition group plan to ask its ruling administration for further details of the plans at a full council meeting being held on Thursday, March 28.

Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson will ask how much will it cost to provide wifi access for all nine high schools in the region, how much money has been set aside for training teachers and how much it will costs to keep around 10,000 iPads charged up.

Speaking ahead of this week’s meeting, she said: “The opposition budget group had proposed that the rollout of iPads across the school estate be slowed down and developed in collaboration with teachers.  

“The expenditure line for this project was £16m in total, and we were very concerned that we had not had sight of a detailed report on the proposal until the morning of Thursday, February 21, when the report was released to the press. “Our group are keen to better understand the business case for the iPad programme as significant claims were made regarding the educational impact the investment will have.  

“We are also concerned at the proposed timescale for the rollout as no other local authority in Scotland has achieved this pace of implementation.  

“The purpose of our questions is to better understand exactly how the rollout will work and how teachers will be supported to make this significant change to their teaching practice.

“Hopefully, the questions will be taken.”

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.

Speaking at the budget announcement last month, Tweeddale East councillor Robin Tatler, the council’s executive member for finance, said: “This is a major 10-year investment in digital learning in the Scottish Borders.

“It’s a key part of the council’s key learning strategy and will transform teaching and learning in our schools for the benefit of young people now and into the future.

“Apple iPads will be provided for every P6 to S6 pupil, and shared devices will be available for P1 To P5 pupils.

“Individual devices will be owned by the pupil, and therefore can be taken home, which means that family members can benefit from learning how to use digital technology and from being able to access digital services including Scottish Borders Council’s growing digital offering.”

Council leader and fellow Tweeddale East councillor Shona Haslam added: “It’s a really exciting and huge investment on behalf of the council.

“We’re the first local authority in Scotland to be rolling out iPads on this scale to every single young person.

“We’re really excited about the impact it’s going to have on the poverty attainment gap, as well as for additional-needs students.

“Being the first local authority to do it, and working very closely with Apple and CGI, we’ve got a good deal.”