iPads, tablet computers and Ofsted

Jay Ashcroft

Jay Ashcroft is director at LearnMaker, one of the UK’s leading training and consultancy companies specialising in education. Jay has worked with over 200 schools to better help them procure, deploy and benefit from Apple technologies across the spectrum of the UK education system. A passionate educator at heart, Jay spent his early career teaching music to children as young as five. As director at LearnMaker, he now enjoys helping schools maximise their impact from mobile technology and ICT. He’ll be discussing his written articles in more detail through his video blogs.

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The relationship between Ofsted and school technology is an issue relevant to every school. If yours isn’t one of the 70% of schools using iPads or tablets, you’ve probably had discussions about whether or not to go ahead and implement them. What I’m going to talk about should be of interest, then, because Ofsted’s focuses are shifting, and the progression towards attention to tablet computing has been swift.

Every week I skim-read their latest reports. As part of my job, I’m committed to helping schools improve in the areas that matter most to them. That’s typically results and Ofsted. Under the new wave of inspections, there’s an increased focus on the SLT and learning culture. Schools are now being held more accountable for weak leadership. Teachers can only be as good as their leadership team allows them to be, and many schools I meet have weak leadership that stifles learning.

I believe Ofsted’s focus on learning culture is a welcome change. Interestingly, I’ve noticed a positive trend towards tablet computing in the most recent reports. This is a milestone that all schools should be aware of. Many schools live and die by the sword of Ofsted as competition for students increase, so the fact that they’re referencing the positive learning impact of tablet computers is interesting.

With the government setting a benchmark of a good grading as the minimum requirement, it is also interesting to know there is a positive correlation between good/outstanding schools and their good use of tablet technology. Now that may sound like common sense, but in the majority of schools I visit, learning and technology are two separate conversations. The lack of forward planning and curriculum development in most schools is what holds them back. It’s not their finances, school building, their staff or their students. You only have to look at the number of inadequate-rated, new build academies to see money is no substitute for strong leadership, and I believe that any school is capable of reaching the coveted outstanding (in the eyes of Ofsted) grade. Tablet computing is capable of improving the learning environment sufficiently to make it easier to achieve a more positive grading, but only with strong leadership of the project. Are you giving your tablet computing project the leadership it deserves or are they just another piece of kit in the wider picture of the school?

Ofsted reports and evaluations

Quality of teaching & provision of learning

Tablets have the potential to improve the quality of teaching through the enrichment of lessons. A common improvement from Ofsted in this category is differentiation of teaching within lessons to challenge the best and worst in a class. Technology is a good way to increase the provision of learning. I’ve pulled a few paragraphs from Ofsted reports to support this.

A good range of resources, particularly the provision of tablet computers, has had an exceptionally positive impact on students’ learning.

The decision six months ago to equip all students with tablet computers has not been universally welcomed by parents and carers, but the positive impact on students’ learning is obvious. The computers help students to work independently, they give all students equal access to online resources and they provide an excellent communication tool between teachers and students. Nearly all teaching is at least good and a lot of it is outstanding.

Mounts Bay Academy / Cornwall / Outstanding

Pupils produce some high-quality work using tablet computers in a range of subjects. Challenging science activities support pupils’ problem solving skills.

Leedon Lower School / Leighton Buzzard / Good

All students make good progress in literacy as a result of regular reading opportunities and the access students have to additional reading material on their individual computer tablets. Younger students who need individual support to improve their reading are supported by skilled and regular additional teaching, so they make good progress in literacy and gain additional skills that help them in lessons. Students use their computer tablets to photograph notes on the whiteboard and on worksheets so they can read the material in small sections. This helps them to read more fluently so they can build their understanding.

Penwortham Priory Academy / Preston / Good

Many students make very good use of information and learning technology (ILT) using, for example, tablet computers or mobile phones, to learn independently of their teachers. In a lesson for apprentices in refrigeration, apprentices were making very good use of mobile phone ‘apps’, as used in the field by refrigeration engineers, to complete complex coinversion calculations. The introduction of tablet computers in a pilot programme has been successful in developing students’ learning independently of their teachers and in providing them with additional challenge.

City of Bath College / Bath / Good

Developing interaction between students and teachers

Interaction is the cornerstone of the learning environment, and the more you can drive interaction
the more opportunities the students have to learn. Below are two interesting quotes.

For example, in an athletics lesson, pupils were honing their shot put technique. After watching the teachers’ demonstration, they practised throwing a weighted ball and then videoed their efforts on tablet computers. After watching the video playback, they then gave feedback on each other’s performance. As a result of the teacher’s skilful questioning, pupils were totally engrossed in this activity, did not appear to get tired and made excellent progress.

Clarendon School / Hampton / Outstanding

Teachers deliver well-structured lessons that interest and motivate pupils. A strength in teaching is the high level of interaction in lessons and the quality of resources, including the use of tablet computers.

Redmoor School / Hinckley / Good

Pupil Premium and narrowing the gap

I’m very passionate about this area in particular as, when I was at school, l was in the free school meal camp. Technology is an area that can have a huge impact for students, and in meetings I recommend schools use their pupil premium fund to equip those children with an iPad. £ for £ versus typical pupil premium initiatives (such as additional TAs, enrichment programs and after school clubs), it’s by a long distance the winner in the impact it can produce for the student. While my recommendation is welcomed, it’s usually ultimately declined in favour of the tried and tested methods (that, nationally, are widening the gap between those children and their peers). I’m very pleased to see Ofsted are recognising the strength of tablet computing in this area and committing it to their reports.

Teachers concentrate on helping pupils develop skills in communication. The pupil premium has been put to good use here through the purchasing of tablet computers for those entitled to benefit from the funding. Staff are skilful in communicating with pupils in whatever way it is possible for them to understand. Even pupils with the lowest levels of ability take part in learning and gain from their experiences in classes. A number of parents commented that the gains made by their children in learning to communicate far exceeded their expectations.

Delamere School / Lancashire / Outstanding

The pupil premium is used highly effectively to fund additional staff. This includes a counsellor and resources such as tablet computers to reduce barriers to learning and enable these students to achieve extremely well. Their progress is on par with others. At the end of Year 11 in 2013 the progress of these students was slightly faster and attainment was slightly higher than that of their peers.

The Bridge School / London / Outstanding

As a result, boys and those students supported by pupil premium funding and Year 7 catch-up funding are making better progress. Funding is used to provide additional teaching and time to talk to an adult who can help them persevere with their efforts until they succeed. Students, particularly boys, respond well to opportunities to use their computer tablets in lessons and develop independence in their class work as a result.

Penwortham Priory Academy / Preston / Good

Additional benefits of tablet computing

There are additional benefits to using tablet computers. ESSA Academy, a school well known for having a transformational 1:1 iPad project, ensure they take every opportunity presented from their tablets. Located in a culturally diverse area of Bolton, a number of students are not native English speakers. I know of many schools who’ve struggled when a student joins but has limited English. As Britain becomes increasingly diverse this scenario will become more common. ESSA found a simple solution. By issuing all with an iPad, students are able to translate work into their native language if needed. It’s relevant at this stage to note that ESSA’s mission statement is “All Will Succeed,” and even students who aren’t fluent in English are able to participate and more importantly excel in their school.

Students who speak English as an additional language achieve well. Not only do they benefit from the experience and expertise of staff across the academy, but ready access to tablet computers enables those at an early stage of learning English to translate words they do not understand or to submit work in their native language.

Essa Academy / Bolton / Good

The flip side

It’s not all positivity however, and I’m reading a number of reports that are critical of the devices in schools who have not taken adequate steps to plan the project. The paragraph below is from a 1:1 secondary school I’ll leave unnamed. The total cost of the project (taking into account the infrastructure required) will have run around the £250,000 mark (in my estimations).

"The school has invested heavily in new technology to support learning. Tablet computers have been provided for all students and are used to good effect in some subjects, such as in physical education where students record and analyse their movements. Not all teachers are confident in using this technology and some are unsure as to how to make the most of new resources. On occasions, the technology is a distraction rather than an aid to learning.


To tie things together we arrive back at my mantra of ‘teaching first, technology second.’ Having worked with Apple products in education for a number of years, I’ve seen the proof first hand that iPads in particular have the potential to transform the learning experience. The reality is, however, that there are so few schools who have really succeeded with iPad that very few have experienced that transformational learning experience themselves. Many schools I meet feel that the financial impact is the barrier to a good tablet computing project, but in reality the only thing stopping your school having the same success is leadership. With a solid vision and sound planning it’s simple to repeat the success of those before you. I work with new schools weekly on exactly that, and now that Ofsted are recognising the benefits and allocating praise, maybe it’s time to rethink about how you use your tablet computers in your school.

Are you confident about tablet use in your school? Let us know in the comments.

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