In 1999 a new school opened its doors in Milton Keynes, setting out to pioneer innovative learning practices and technologies. As one of the first Business and Enterprise Schools, Walton High is to play a key role in the expansion of a new city and the development of a more flexible learning environment. To help it grow, the school has entered into a long-term partnership with Viglen to provide the insightful advice and processing muscle behind its commitment to immersive, 21st Century education.
It’s not often that the Prime Minister comes to visit — rarer still that he should be joined by his Chancellor of the Exchequer. Yet this is precisely what happened at Walton High on the day following the Budget of March 2004. For, having already been visited by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Patricia Hewitt — at the opening of the final phase of its building — Walton High is a school feted by Government, and with good reason.
Walton High is the antithesis of the run-down 60s-built inner city comprehensive. Its ultra-modern, open campus is to be a centre of learning excellence for 1350 secondary students by 2006, rising from the current roll of eight hundred pupils covering Years 8 to 12.
Opened just before the turn of the century with an initial intake of 120, the young and dynamic Walton High has expanded apace with an aggressive building schedule laid-out over seven years. Last to join as a result of the Milton Keynes change to the age of transfer will be some two hundred Year 7 students in time for September 2005.
ICT “At the Centre of Everything”
“ICT has been at the centre of everything we’ve done,” begins Walton High’s Principal Michelle Currie. “After all, we’ve been building a learning centre for the 21st century . . . Viglen have been involved with us, helping us to shape our vision for the use of ICT, from the very beginning”.
Innovative ICT touches every aspect of life at Walton High. From electronic registration to cross-campus wireless networking and an evolving vision for an all-digital curriculum, ICT has enabled more flexible learning and working across the board.
In 1999, the school’s first competitive tender was held, pitching Viglen head-to-head with the UK’s other leading ICT contractors. “Viglen won through,” continues Michelle Currie, “as its competitors simply didn’t come up to the same level in terms of cost, specification and business practices. Viglen were much more interested in providing the best solution, most cost-effectively”.
A fundamental differentiator was Viglen’s ability to offer flexible finance to underpin the IT investment. Viglen Finance enabled the seamless acquisition of Walton High’s entire technology requirements, avoiding a big upfront cost. With fixed manageable payment terms, mirroring the school’s own budget patterns, the IT could be made available immediately, without disrupting the school’s overall spending plan. In addition, Viglen Finance was able to bundle peripherals such as printers, interactive whiteboards, software, training and support in the one payment scheme.
A tranche of Viglen Contender desktop PCs with Intel Pentium 3 600MHz technology was acquired in an agreement worth some £90,000, following the installation of the school’s initial networked infrastructure.
Further development has followed swiftly. Now well into phase two of its technology plan, the school is installing a further 420 Viglen PCs — a selection of Contender and Incepta Intel Pentium 4 desktop machines, 75 Dossier NS Notebook PCs and a suite of new servers to put processing strength behind the network.
Its overall budget of ¤360,000 includes the provision of colour laser printers and interactive whiteboards to each of nine key curriculum areas.
“We’ve noticed that the Viglen hardware has been exceptionally reliable,” adds Michelle Currie,“and the installation process itself was very smooth indeed . . . even when building delays caused the Viglen installation team some problems, they remained immensely good humoured”.
Walton High has opted for a bespoke support package, custom-designed by Viglen to encompass telephone-based support on demand, remote ‘dial-in’ diagnostics and next-working-day onsite engineering.
ICT Woven-In to the Curriculum
The school’s revolutionary zeal for ICT extends to every area of the curriculum - even to traditionally ‘PC-free’ areas including PE, where the latest DV technology is employed to analyse students’ performances.
High performance PCs are in daily use in Music for composition, editing and playback as well as Design and Technology where CAD/CAM is the order of the day. The latest learning software including Crocodile Clips (Sciences), Photoshop (Art) and Geometer’s Sketchpad (Mathematics) is in regular classroom use.
“It’s amazing what can now be achieved with just a little effort,” observes Michelle Currie. “When I started teaching twenty years ago, you had to book the school’s projector and thread the film yourself, if you knew how to get it to work. Now, colleagues can easily insert digital video clips into PowerPoint presentations to make lessons really come to life”.
“Increasingly, we’re finding that students are using technology as the norm. . . as a regular part of learning, rather than a ‘special’ trip to the computer room”.
Developing Digital ‘Bridges’
Now there’s no single computer room to which special trips are made, but no fewer than seven dedicated all-PC rooms, including two informal cyber cafes. Additionally, Walton High can draw on three full-feature portable laptop trolleys each with 25 Viglen Dossier NS Notebook PCs, and curriculum-based PC clusters dotted all over the campus.
Viglen ClassLink 2000 provides core network management and Remote Learning functions and ensures additional oversight when students are working unsupervised. Early-morning and after-school access is provided to ICT labs in an effort to further bridge the digital divide and develop a ‘social’ side to the out-of-hours use of learning technology.
Partnership Made Real
Having been intimately involved in the development of state-of-the-art ICT at Walton High since its inception, Viglen has become a trusted partner.
“Partnership is something we’ve always wanted to work towards,” comments Michelle Currie, “but this is very much a two-way partnership. Viglen make sure we’re making best use of our hardware and software, to trial new technology and help facilitate sharing of information and best practice”.
“We have found Viglen to be much more interested than other companies in helping us realise our objectives in improving teaching and learning”.
Viglen’s partnership with the school extends to flexible financing. Having leased a £200,000 portion of its spend through Viglen Finance, the scheme’s in-built Technology Refresh feature will help Walton High upgrade its technology over time at little or no additional cost.
Embracing the New
Commenting on Viglen’s ongoing partnership with Walton High and its ambitious future plans, Viglen Chief Executive Bordan Tkachuk observes: “First class learning and flexible working are just two key benefits to be derived from Walton High’s innovative and enthusiastic application of the latest Viglen technology”.
“Led from the front and actively embracing the new, Walton High’s desire for an all-digital curriculum across the school is hugely exciting, and Viglen will be with them — supporting and encouraging — at every step”.
Chief Executive Officer, Viglen
The Future: Connected, Interactive, Compelling
With a meaty 10Mb laser-link in place to guarantee ultra-fast connectivity, and a high-bandwidth internal network with cross-campus wireless LAN to come, Walton High will make a certain success of its next step: curriculum delivery with enhanced digital content.
Before the final expansion in student numbers in September 2005 when the school completes its full remit, a ‘whole school’ network will go live to provide deeper and more complete communication between staff, parents and pupils.
“We become the lead school in a Leading Edge Partnership from September 04”, concludes Michelle Currie, “which gives us the opportunity to network with other schools and share best practice in ICT. . . we've come so far and made such a difference already . . . it’ll be exciting just to pass it on”.