Making IT a part of school life

Take-up of information and communications technologies (ICT) in schools and colleges in the UK is patchy at the best of times but...

Take-up of information and communications technologies (ICT) in schools and colleges in the UK is patchy at the best of times but some schools are showing the way, writes Karl Cushing.

One such school is Sandwich Technology School in Kent, which has taken a very progressive approach towards ICT, embracing e-learning and actively encouraging the use of computers by pupils and staff.

The school, which was recently awarded Technology College status, has 300 networked computers which are used for a variety of cross-curricular activities. There are also 80 laptops for staff to use for registering pupils electronically, with a further 50 laptops assigned as part of Microsoft's AAL (anytime anywhere learning) initiative. These are all linked to the network via a wireless Wav Lan system. Broadband Internet access is enabled via a two megabit per second fibre-optic connection.

Not surprisingly, a key consideration for the school was controlling as well as ensuring e-mail and Internet access.

The school's network manager Robert Draper says the school considered creating its own bespoke software but this was not feasible. In the end it went for an integrated, all-in-one solution offering user controls, audit logs and a firewall for network security - all managed via a browser-based management interface.

The system, Netpilot Enterprise from Equiinet, offers e-mail serving; routing; Web, file and print serving; caching; and multi-user Web access capabilities. However, for Draper the key benefits are the inbound and outbound user access controls, which enable the school to set up restrictions based on a number of different criteria, including individual, group and time. It can also set up Web access controls such as blacklists for blocking undesirable sites and whitelists, which block everything bar a few approved sites.

"During its first year of use, it has proved itself very reliable and it is simplicity itself to manage," says Draper.

He adds that it has been particularly good for spotting people who are abusing the system by either downloading restricted material or visiting chat rooms and user groups. Anyone caught doing this will be barred from accessing the Internet for a defined period, although the threat of being able to track misuse is a big enough deterrent for most people, Draper says.

The school is constantly looking at better ways to use new technology, says Draper. One current initiative involves setting up a wireless link to a local junior school, whose pupils will eventually be taught remotely by teachers at Sandwich. The scheme uses interactive whiteboards at both schools so they can talk to each other over the wireless link.

The junior school has got 20 Psion netbooks which will be wireless connected to Sandwich Technology School's thin-client Citrix server, providing Internet access and enabling the netbooks to use full-blown Microsoft Office 2000 applications.

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