Case study : Ashington. Education Action
Testimonial by Gordon Dickinson, ICT Strand Manager,
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
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
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that would not be out of date by the time it arrived.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 rockdirect.com 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.
ICT Strand Manager
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
- 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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