Why so many schools fail to get impact from iPad

70% of UK schools are now using mobile devices in the classroom, according to Tablets for Schools. The vast majority of those devices are likely to be iPads, yet how many schools can you name who are standout users of the device? That is to say, how many schools are using the device to deliver true 21st century transformational lessons?

The answer, disappointingly, is very, very few. In the past two years, I’ve worked with over 200 schools across the spectrum of the UK education system. Only a handful remain memorable from what I watched them use iPad for. But what about the likes of ESSA Academy and Cedars School of Excellence, I hear you say! Both have transformed their schools and results through the use of iPad. The answer is far simpler than you’d probably guess. It’s all about the training of staff.

It’s a recurrent theme with all the successful schools using iPad. Look through any interview or press release, and all reference a well thought-through training program as the foundation of their project. In my new venture I’m lucky enough to work with schools on a daily basis to better implement devices while targeting improvements. These are some of the core factors I talk through.

1. Prioritising training first

There’s a spending ratio I’ve noticed on all successful iPad projects. At least 25% of their spend is dedicated to training. Often that is an internal member of staff. On a large secondary project, it is often a deputy head who’s in charge. Successful 1:1 models, such as ESSA Academy and The de Ferrers Academy, both had an internal training resource within the school. This was in the form of Adbul Choan and Greg Hughes respectively. Both individuals still held day-to-day roles, but a huge amount of the staff training was developed by them. Not all schools are lucky enough to have someone with that the level of expertise already at the school, however. If you don’t then the ratio to training holds true. If you do the maths, an average deputy head salary will be between £40-50k in secondary, which is around 25% of a £200,000 project.

So why allocate 25% towards training? From all the qualified professions, I would argue that teaching has the least lifelong CPD. The workload + cost of cover staff make it difficult to leave school. To contextualise this, I was speaking to a surgeon recently who told me he only works two days per week. The other three days he attends training, seminars and conferences. A great work balance if you ask me, and he still receives a full time salary! That’s because his CPD opportunities are of such a high quality that what he learns is invaluable to his team back at the hospital. You may say that medicine is a much higher stakes job, as lives are on the line, but is teaching so different? Medicine has an instant impact on the quality of a person’s life, but then so too does teaching. The only difference is teaching is a gradual process of change rather than instant. I realise teachers aren’t able to take three days out per week, but that doesn’t mean they can’t bring expertise into the school. Twilight, team teaching and coffee mornings are all great ways to do so. When was the last time you took a visit to a local school to see how they do things with their iPads?

2. Technology is only a tool

The iPad is a fantastic educational piece of kit, but it’s still only a tool in the hands of the teacher. A good teacher will use it well, a bad teacher won’t. The technology by default delivers no impact, it’s all up to the teacher to create some. Many schools get caught up in a race to buy as much technology as their budget allows. Let’s take a step back and breathe. Think long term. Over the next three to five years you’ll likely buy iPads every year, gradually increasing your numbers. Wouldn’t it be prudent to therefore stack as much training at the start of the project so your staff are experts from the beginning? More maths again… Imagine you have a budget of £10,000 for an iPad Mini project. This is roughly what you could buy:

a) 50x iPad Mini.
b) 46x iPad Mini + 46x protective cases.
c) 35x iPad Mini + 35x protective cases + 4 full day high quality teacher training

Sacrificing 11x iPads (+ cases) will provide you with four full days of high quality teacher training instead. Which do you think will make the bigger impact in your classrooms?

3. What to get training on?

Let’s imagine you take my advice and go for option c). You now have four full days of training time to use, so what do you focus on? App training? NO! Basic device training is important to ensure staff are comfortable and confident with the technology. Using the rest to learn how to use apps is a sure-fire way to waste your money. Instead focus on your pedagogy.  Much of what I now do is to work with institutions to develop an internal iPad team. Select 5-10 staff across your departments and Key Stages, and then train them in the soft skills of how to truly develop the curriculum. A highly-trained select core of teachers within your school will be able to train the rest of the staff regularly throughout the year. Let’s look at how you could utilise your training:

a) Whole school approach: 3x inset days + 2x twilights.
b) Mixed school approach: 2x inset days + 2x iPad team days.
c) Top down approach: 4x iPad team days (focusing on curriculum development, team teaching, workflows and pedagogy). Your iPad team then host a regular training meeting for the rest of your staff.

"What do you focus on? App training? NO! Basic device training is important to ensure staff are comfortable and confident with the technology."

4. Selecting the right company or trainer for your project

Again, let’s imagine you’ve opted for the top down approach of option c). You now have to find the right trainer. You should have bought your iPads from a sales company with an Apple Solution Expert (ASE) accreditation. If you haven’t, you’ve already lost out on subsidised training (for every 25 iPads bought, Apple provide a rebate to the ASE of £202 ex VAT to be put towards a training session with an Apple Professional Developer (APD)). I met a school recently who purchased over 500 iPads via their managed service provider. Not only have they paid more per unit than they could have, but they’ve also lost out on a pot of £4040 ex VAT towards APD training as their managed service provider isn’t an ASE. Ensure you buy from the right place.

Selecting a trainer for your curriculum development and pedagogy is slightly more difficult. There isn’t an easily accessible network of the companies or individuals nationwide who do this type of work. Luckily there’s a golden rule to always follow. Always ensure the trainer you hire has been an active teacher at some stage in their career. If you go to the dentist you expect them to have been trained by a fellow professional at dentistry school. Same with any lawyer, mechanic, doctor, pilot or accountant. We have a certain level of expectation for other professions, but I visit schools who are receiving training on iPad curriculum development from individuals who’ve never taught. I find this crazy. It’s another sure-fire way to minimise any impact from your budget. Never be afraid to question a trainer’s background, and don’t be afraid to say no. You have a limited budget so use it wisely.

In summary, invest in your staff above all else, and invest more at the start of the project. This will maximise impact. Technology only becomes a tool once it fits seamlessly into a teacher’s classroom vocabulary. I draw the comparison to interactive whiteboards (IWB) with many new clients. Almost every school has them (in some variety or another), yet I can count only three schools I’ve met who’ve had any formal training on them. For the rest they’re used as a projector with occasional highlighting and drawing functions thrown in. Similar functions could be achieved using a mounted flatscreen TV at a fifth of the cost to the school. Across the majority, IWBs offer a lack any substantial teaching and learning impact. Working across numerous schools I see a similar situation developing with iPads. Now the majority of the schools use them, but only the minority get the impact they can deliver. Teaching first, technology second. Follow those simple rules and you’ll never go wrong.