St Mary’s connect with their arguments to improve online learning.

We were pleased to contribute to St Mary’s Junior School (Baldock) upgrade of their failing WiFi network.  This was a difficult application for us to pass through our criteria as we don’t usually contribute to “infrastructure” projects or put money towards bigger projects substantially above our £1,000 maximum (the network is going to cost over £4000).  This is because our aim to help schools with smaller, discrete projects that will substantially enhance learning, interest and wellbeing.  Another issue is we have to be sure that these larger projects will go ahead and be up and running in a reasonable time frame or else the award money could be sitting in a bank account doing no good for a long time when it could be helping other children.

Having said this, we do appreciate how vital reliable, fast WiFi is in normal times, let alone during these months of intensive online learning.  Hayley Duke (School Business Manager) made a strong initial case for the project, including the difficulties they are currently facing:

“An upgraded Wi-Fi system will help support all pupils including, individual, small booster groups, catch-up groups, SEN and whole classes learning. Currently we have several pupils who usually end up sharing devices because of poor WiFi connection which hinders their learning opportunities. This award would enable an improved WiFi system which will increase the quality of time and quantity of pupils using individual laptop/tablet for learning. It will help teachers to plan efficiently and effectively with the confidence of knowing their lessons will run to plan. Our teachers will be able to deliver interactive and meaningful lessons providing our pupils with the best opportunity to learn through high quality teaching without interruption.

The Wi-Fi will be used every day in school for accessing the internet to assist with teaching. This will help greatly during this currently lockdown when teachers are teaching both children in the classroom together with children using google classroom from home.”

Hayley didn’t just focus on their need for strong WiFi during this lockdown period, however:

“Long term, the Wi-Fi will enable the school to use interactive learning platforms such as Timetable Rockstars (as well as others) on a daily basis without interruption or failure. We have found that interactive platforms generally engage pupils who don't always enjoy maths/English because they make learning fun, with challenges and competitions which encourages children to learn and feel a sense of achievement when they improve their marks.”

Despite these excellent needs and benefits, we needed some extra arguments to justify stretching our criteria due to special circumstances (the pandemic in this case).  Hayley wrote back…

“The current Wi-Fi is hindering learning because teachers are currently teaching using Google Meet, Zoom or Microsoft Teams, at the same time as teaching the small number of pupils that are in class who are using school laptops or tablets.  When the WiFi doesn't work this means that whatever the teacher is trying to remotely share on his/her screen on the computer with both learners at home and in school the lesson is interrupted or even stopped.  Pupils who are in school are hindered because the laptops or tablets don't' always connect to the internet, or server which means they cannot load text or photos to complete work tasks.  The lesson either has to be paused whilst the connection is resumed, or pupils miss that part of the lesson and must try and catch up.  This has an effect on their confidence and learning.

The impact on learning and teaching is huge and very frustrating which impacts on staff and pupils’ wellbeing and motivation.  When technology runs smoothly, we are all happy.  Teachers are dealing with great pressures at the moment and we would like to eliminate one stress in their workload by upgrading our WiFi so they can teach with confidence knowing lessons will go to plan.  This will give them new incentives and improve their wellbeing.”