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Case study : Ashington. Education Action Zone.

Testimonial by Gordon Dickinson, ICT Strand Manager, Ashington EAZ

Products purchased:
220 Sigma Si notebooks & wireless LAN solutions

Ashington EAZ have since purchased an additional 40 Sigma Si notebooks

As ICT Strand Manager in Ashington Education Achievement Zone it is my responsibility to support and encourage the development of ICT within our 21First, Middle and High Schools. Other zone strands include supporting pupils families and post 16 education, so I was given the task of applying for a grant to set up centres for adult ICT education.

The grant was accepted and I began the task of equipping the centres. One of the key areas required was that of flexibility. The IT equipment we used would need to be flexible enough to be used in any available classroom; in a local community hall; in a room in a pub or club, or even in an outreach bus on a street.

For this reason we opted for laptops rather than PC's along with wireless networking, and portable projectors and interactive whiteboards.

Our target audience is the adults within our zone, and we felt that we could contact them best through their
children via the schools. The laptops enabled us to adopt a more friendly relaxed atmosphere for the courses rather than the sterilized and regimented vision, which puts many people off. Our courses are planned to develop from very basic beginners taster sessions through to advanced specific ICT areas
such as music and media production. However we also wanted the equipment to be familiar at each stage.

This meant that the largest part of the grant would be spent on a standard laptop kit at each centre. As always finance and "best value" became the bottom line. So I was left searching for a top quality machine at a rock bottom price. A contradiction in terms that usually ends in a compromise that no one is satisfied with.

I also knew that once the equipment was bought there would be no going back to correct mistakes and no finance available for repairs or replacements later. So it was vital to select equipment that was future proofed as far as possible. This included: reliability; robustness, and compatibility, as well as hardware and software that would not be out of date by the time it arrived.

I visited seminars; workshops and exhibitions, listened to experts and users, and read journal articles until the early hours, often wondering if any particular model was better than any other, or it was all just sales
pitch. Eventually several machines began to stand out as more popular or better quality. I then used GCAT to request companies quotes for the specifications we had agreed, contacting as many companies as possible, in the hope that the wider the net, the better the catch. This resulted in so many options and alternatives that I would have been happier starting all over again.

However after focusing on the actual specification and reliability, the same few machines began to appear. As the field narrowed, I focused on price and best value. At this point the Sigma model from Rock stood well clear of the rest.

Unfortunately this created a small dilemma, as I had not used the company before and so was unsure of their background. I contacted the company on several occasions in order to clarify various hardware concerns, and at each time they did everything possible to support me. I again listened to others views and opinions of the company and gradually realised their pedigree.

Finally the moment of truth arrived, I placed an order for 220 Sigma laptops from and crossed my fingers. To my relief everything went smoothly. A meeting was arranged to finalise exactly how we wanted the machines configured, along with consultation phases to make sure everything was right. The order arrived, was checked, distributed, set up and is now operational. The whole process had gone without a hitch.

As the staff and tutors saw the machines, they were all extremely impressed with the quality and standard of the laptops, regularly asking if there were any available for a loan. I was so impressed with both the machines and the support, that I decided to buy one for myself. Now some people in the business may say that with 220 machines operational I should not have pushed my luck, however when I set my laptop up I discovered a software problem. I contacted Rock, they immediately arranged a pick up, checked and resolved the problem, and returned my machine within days. Although I was initially concerned about my machine, I now realised that I have tested Rock's support and backup and it had passed with distinction.

I am now involved with another laptop project, this time for school pupils. I am considering: Price; Specification; Reliability; Support and best value. It should not come as a surprise where I am looking.

Testimonial by
Gordon Dickinson
ICT Strand Manager
Ashington EAZ

Ashington EAZ

The Ashington EAZ is a partnership between 21 schools (13 First, 6 Middle and 2 High) in the Ashington High and Hirst High School's pyramids, and a variety of public, private and voluntary sector agencies working locally in the community. The EAZ aims to raise the aspirations of young people and their families, and increase their confidence, self esteem and level of achievement through five key strands:

  • Improving the quality of teaching and learning.
  • ICT Developments.
  • Providing support for pupils and their families.
  • Offering mandatory entitlement to extra curricular activities.
  • Increasing the number of young people taking up post-16 and higher education courses.

Leadership and day to day management of the zone are the responsibility of the Director, who reports to the Executive Committee and the Forum, the overall decision making body. The Finance committee and the Headteacher's Advisory Group make recommendations to the Executive Committee, and detailed proposals on the development of each key strand are made by the appropriate Strand Management Group. All of the decision making and advisory bodies represent a wide range of local interests, including: teachers, governors, public sector services, local businesses, voluntary organisations and education and training providers.

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