Creating inclusive learning experiences with Highland Council


In this episode of Texthelp Talks, our host Patrick McGrath is joined by Robert Quigley and Tania Mackie from Highland Council in Scotland. They discuss their journey of rolling out and implementing over 30,000 Chromebook devices to students in their local authority. Which was driven by their commitment to digital learning and inclusion.

Transcript

Patrick McGrath:
Welcome, everybody, to today's Texthelp Talks Podcast. We, as always, have a host of experts that we endeavor to bring on the show, from education right the way through in the workplace. So do make sure you subscribe to our podcast. You can do that through your favorite and preferred player, or your streaming service, and never miss an episode. I'm Patrick McGrath. I'm education technology strategist here at Texthelp. It's my pleasure to be the host for today. I'm joined by two very wonderful hosts, and definitely experts in their own field here today, and it is Robert Quigley and Tania Mackie from Highland Council.

Patrick:
Robert, of course, is now a seconded head teacher. He's a member of Highland Council's ICT in Learning team. We're going to be finding out a little bit more about that as we go. He's been working alongside Tania, who we'll introduce in a little second, to provide digital support and training to schools across Highland. He's worked as part of the Chromebook roll-out since it began in 2017. I'm really looking forward to hearing the history about that, and finding out what really initiated that as we go through. He started there focusing on online safety, in order to set a prerequisite of a successful deployment of devices. And, of course, like all of us at this moment in time in learning, and with the world in general, he has been focused very much on digital learning during the lockdown.

Patrick:
And then to Tania, another former head teacher, I say former head teacher, Tania, but once a head teacher, always a head teacher, and all that. I really shouldn't use that word, former, in a primary setting. You've worked, Tania, with both early years and secondary settings. Your role, alongside with Robert, is a little bit more focused on the delivery of curriculum, improving digital pedagogy in schools, supporting digital skills, and skill improvement. Tania also, and I'm excited to hear about this as well, Tania works in line with Education Scotland and Northern Alliance on some of the more national strategies that are running there, which we'll hear from. Welcome, Robert, welcome, Tania, to today's Texthelp podcast. It's good to have you.

Robert Quigley:
Thank you. Nice to be here.

Patrick:
Indeed. As we talked about just at the outset, the sun is shining, so if you're listening to this podcast on another day in time than when we recorded, I'm sorry about that. We do hope the sunshine does persist. It may not be warm, but the sun is bright out there. No snow in the Highlands today, guys, no?

Tania Mackie:
Only on the hills now. It's fast disappearing. Caught it just at the end.

Patrick:
What else do we do during lockdown? We're going to be covering a few things with you guys today. In very general terms, we're going to be looking at how we can create more inclusive learning environments, and, of course, the elephant in the room, as always, is the last sort of year now of on and off remote learning, and how technology can help facilitate that learning, and, importantly for us at Texthelp, how we can facilitate inclusive learning. And of course, for a lot of the schools, the local authorities, the trusts that have been through the difficulties and the challenges of the last year, not all were prepared in terms of their infrastructure, in terms of their device support. You guys at Highlands, obviously, you have an estate, as I understand it, of 30,000 plus Chromebooks. Did I get that number right? Is that a right number?

Robert:
Yeah. I think it's about 31, 32,000. There are people who do know the exact number, just in case people are worrying about the fact that we're quite blasé about it. We've got an administration team that got kind of records of every single device. But yeah, we're talking about 31, 32,000 devices.

Patrick:
And just for the listeners, Robert, how many schools are there in Highland's local authority, then?

Robert:
209. I'm looking to Tania. No, 203.

Tania:
203.

Robert:
203.

Tania:
Yeah. 29 secondary, three special, and a mix of primary. And actually, in Highland, that mix of primary can be a one or two-pupil school, to two, 300, 400-pupil school.

Patrick:
I suppose that's the thing, and I learned very fast in my first trips through the local authority, just how spread out the school estate actually is there. So you do have schools, then, with very small pupil counts in and around the authority. Is that right?

Tania:
It is. That's really, you know, everybody says, "Why do you look for local solutions in Highland? Why is it just not central policy?" But you can only give guidance, because actually, what it'll look like in one school, will look like very different in the other school. So that's where that local context and flexibility is really key in Highland.

Patrick:
Okay. I mean, I remember a number of years ago, actually speaking at an event in Inverness, and hearing about the concept of Chromebook and deployment, and one-to-one, and moving between different devices. I remember thinking back then just what a bold idea it was, and just the challenges that I could see ahead when you think about things like infrastructure, but what I'm really fascinated in, is sort of back then, of course, well before pre-COVID, what was the vision, Robert, for a one-to-one, particularly, roll-out, or at least a large-scale device roll-out back then?

Robert:
We were fortunate, in a sense, that our previous model in terms of the infrastructure for schools was coming to a point where we could actually make a change. And typically, in the past, we've gone down the route of having Windows laptops that were shared amongst pupils, and there was no real difference between what a pupil would access, and what staff would access. But obviously, you had far less devices. Louise Jones, who was doing sort of a, I suppose, amalgamation of what Tania and I are doing some time ago, began working on a sort of vision strategy for this, very much supported by the Council's directorate, and this sort of vision was for one-to-one.

Robert:
I was, obviously, part of lots of digital strategy board meetings, where we talked about lots of different permutations. Would it just be S1 to S6? Would it be all pupils? What would it look like? Would it be a certain device? Would it just be, you know, bring your own device? And from that, out came the Chromebook project, which was, in effect, primary six to S6 having access to their own device, and most crucially, having access to a device that they could take home. It's not a device that was, in effect, loaned to them, although, obviously, it is, it's Highland Council property, but we wanted to make it feel like it was actually theirs, because anytime learning was the crucial part.

Patrick:
But that, just picking up on that, Tania, the anytime access, I mean, that, obviously, was very ahead of its curve back then. There were some schools in, say, the U.S. started thinking about one-to-one devices, but that concept of anytime access, that seems so far ahead of its time right now. What was driving that, in conjunction with what Robert was saying?

Tania:
Yeah. I guess it was vision. It was the vision of the director at the time, Bill Alexander, and he has to be noted here, because he was the one who was a force behind this right from the top. That's really important, when you've got someone signed up. But it was also the schools as well. I think because we create our own solutions locally, we know our communities really, really well. So you then, you move that curriculum forwards, and it's innovative. I guess, also, that anytime wasn't just about pupils, it was about increasing parental engagement. As a head teacher at that point in time, I actually used the technology to use discussion boards. There were certain apps that you're able to link and share children's learning with parents, and have them comment back and forwards. So there was that aspect to it as well. It was opening up a world.

Tania:
We have to find solutions in Highland because we're so rural, we're so dispersed, although there's urban as well. Very different settings. So there was a whole drive. But I think it's really fundamental that when you have something that is so visionary, that there is an agreement that that is from top level down, you know, there's that agreement.

Patrick:
Started off talking about vision there. And, of course, the next thing that follows on from a vision is the dreaded word, plan. So in terms of the plan, I mean, where does the plan start on something like a roll-out of this level across such a dispersed student population? Does the plan start with infrastructure, devices? Is it teaching and learning? Is it inclusion? Where does it start?

Robert:
I mean, I think it's a mixture of all of them. However, I think that it was an interesting evolution that I think at times, it focused quite heavily on the sort of practical infrastructure, which is important because, ultimately, if you don't have the network in place, if you don't have the correct devices. And the other part, of course, that I haven't mentioned so far, is G Suite tenancy, which is absolutely crucial to what we were doing, because having control over our own tenancy of G Suite meant that we could use the Chromebooks to their full potential. We will come on to, obviously, to COVID, but as a kind of throwaway headline from that, the fact that we had been using Google Meet, the fact that we had been using Google Classroom, and had full access to this during pre-lockdown, we could actually roll it out very comfortably. That's the reason why, I think, a lot of pupils in Highland were able to actually pick up and run with a kind of lockdown setting, I suppose.

Robert:
But the plan itself evolved with lots and lots, and I'm not a big fan of that word either, the stakeholder word, but in lots of discussions, lots of engagement, finding out what we thought the pupils meant, wanted, rather, and what the staff wanted. Another really important part of the plan was the bit that I was involved with, which was the online safety part, because we felt a real responsibility that if we were giving pupils devices, in some cases for their first time ever, you know, a P6 pupil having their own Chromebook, it was really important that we put in place a structure to support them, in terms of online safety. So a lot of my job was dealing with supporting schools, supporting pupils, and supporting families here.

Patrick:
Got you. Tania, just coming to you on this, at which point does it turn from a deployment piece, at which point does it turn from an infrastructure device roll-out to be, this is a teaching and learning initiative, or does it not? Does that evolve? How did that come through in the program?

Tania:
I guess along with the original, the original team, the original roll-out, we can call them, there was Louise Jones. She was working very much with how to use the Google tools. But it was all at different stages. Bear in mind that, actually, the last Chromebook roll-out was actually only August 2019, because we did it by associated schools groups, so areas, because the network had to be enabled. I think that's one issue that some authorities may come across, is when the Chromebooks return to school, what that network looks like for them, because we've been very careful to roll out Chromebooks that are going to be able to work at school, and not cause other issues with IT. So that roll-out happened. So everyone would have been at different stages of embedding that technology in learning and teaching. And, of course, Robert was doing a huge piece of work across Highland with online safety and supporting schools and parents. You had Andy with all the technical knowledge, and then Narelle with the Chromebooks. So there's only a capacity of what you can do.

Tania:
So in a way, when we got to 2020, the team coming together, that's at that point where we looked at consistency of expectation of use, not even that, it was where are we all? It was a very, very overnight, quick audit of, "We've got these Chromebooks. We've got additional funding," I know we're going to speak about that later, about how do we enable a consistency of expectation, and where are we with how we're using Chromebooks in Highland? Because it was such a huge project, to roll out so many devices. It took in total, was it four years, Robert, four, five years, from the pilot?

Robert:
Yeah. Probably, you would say a good four years from the initial pilot to the final roll-out of the device. Yeah. As Tania said, it's not the most glamorous, and it's not what parents, even schools, want to hear, you know, is that we're building the network, because it's not something that's particularly appealing, and ultimately, what a parent and a staff and pupil want to know is, "When are we getting our device?" But as Tania says, unless that infrastructure's in place, the device is not going to work.

Robert:
And what I've always said is, there's nothing more frustrating and potentially derailing than somebody who's motivated to use the tools, but they actually can't use them because of the infrastructure. I don't think we've got a one-shot chance with some people, but there are some people who would say, "I'll give this a go. I'll open up to digital learning. I will try to see how I can make this enhance my teaching and learning." If it doesn't work, you do run the risk of losing them because they've said, "Well, I've tried it, and as always, technology failed me." So I think we're really proud of the fact that we've not had that in Highland because we've done it so strategically and carefully, there hasn't been very many opportunities where that has happened, or people have made that comment.

Patrick:
How, then, guys, do you follow through with, say, professional development, continuing professional development, because if you're looking at an implementation program that's years in the making, and I totally understand why that's the case, everybody's going to be at a different level, the students, pupils, they're going to be adopting at a different point, the teachers are going to be changing their approaches in different ways. How do you put that consistent support there for staff, in particular, throughout that period?

Robert:
Yeah. For me, what COVID, and you feel bad even saying this, but, and I think we've all said it, that there were some things, or there are some things that the lockdown has actually helped with. In Highland, undoubtedly, the professional development has been transformational because we had all these desperate schools, and desperate staff who were training, learning at different stages, and there were some staff who actually hadn't had access to any of the training. I'm thinking about non-teaching staff. During the very start of the lockdown, as part of the team that we put together, we realized it was really important to offer a significant amount of training, but also doing it right level, not just doing generic, you know, "This is how you use Google Classroom."

Robert:
We pitched it and differentiated it at so many different levels, to the point where that was being recognized, and is being recognized as one of the kind of really big highlights across Scotland. We reckon that we trained, well, we did a formal training program in June. We kind of devised our own tiered system of level one to three training, level three being, I suppose, quite similar to some of the Google Certified training.

Robert:
The really powerful part of it was that we managed to train just under a thousand staff, and completed this tiered training program that was delivered by myself and Tania, but also, crucially, by practitioners. I put out a plea for teachers to come forward to support us with this, and we had people who had never, ever delivered training, who offered themselves because at level one, we had in excess of 500 staff who were being trained at the kind of very basics level, with the premise being that at the end of this training, they could then go back to remote learning, and actually deliver what was required, whether as as a support assistant, or whether as an early years practitioner. This training was delivered by, level one, by 30 volunteers, in a sense that they give up their time, we came up with a kind of core program for them to deliver, but how they delivered it themselves was up to them.

Patrick:
Yeah. That's funny. That was the word I was going to pick up on, Robert, just that you clearly have done that. I mean, you were talking at the outset there about, "What is effectively?" I don't mean to oversimplify a cascaded training model, but cascaded training models in the past have been, we'll get 30 teachers in a room, and we'll expect them to go back to their schools and then that never transpires that way. I think what COVID has done, and I don't know if you both agree, but it has built, you know, what we know are a resilient bunch of people, all of our fellow educators, but we've built them in such a way that they have, I almost think, a greater thirst for that CPD now, and a greater want to actually learn and implement it. Nobody wants to look stupid when they sit down and a do a remote learning lesson, but that's not what this is about. This is about seeing the opportunities. I think, I don't know, I'd love to hear your thoughts on that, Tania or Robert.

Tania:
Yeah. There's two things to unpack there. There's the difference between the training when we first locked down, and the training that's going on now. So the training initially was to get everybody to the same base level of use of technology, and different applications. Now, it's about how we use those to deliver the pedagogy, and how we look at the learning outcome, what tools are most appropriate, and also, the accessibility, so coming back Read and Write, opening up literacy for all. So it's not just now about, "We've got this. This is how you get into Google Classroom. This is what you can do." It's about, "This is your window," and Robert's going to cringe, I always say this, "It's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, it's my cupboard to that world beyond that screen."

Patrick:
I want to maybe just move beyond that, and start to think about, so you were quite clearly well prepared. You had a number of years of assembling the team. The Avengers were slowly assembling there, the right people in the right order to be that dream team. Many local authorities and multi-academy trusts and larger groups wouldn't have had that background, that strength of people to put in place, and would have struggled with that. But obviously it meant that you guys could hit the ground running. If you can think back to kind of March and April of last year, what were the things you started to learn about one-to-one? Was it that we don't need one-to-one, or we don't have enough devices, or that we don't have infrastructure, or we don't have enough CPD? What did you learn back in those initial few months that you didn't know about a one-to-one program?

Robert:
I think I'm going to let Tania speak about that because I think it's all of those points. I think what I learned most was how we had perhaps mistakenly thought that staff in general weren't interested in digital learning. And I think how quickly I realized that actually, it was simply having access to the correct CPD, having access to the correct support, actually having access to someone that can listen to them, and say to them, "You can do this."

Robert:
The highlight that I've always got, and I know it's back to the training a little bit, but a staff member said to me, they came to a session on Google Sites, actually, and said to me, "I'm just here because I've been told to come to this session. Don't worry. It's got no relevance to me at all. I'm into my outdoor learning." At the end of the session, and she still is one of the biggest advocates, because what she said to me was, "So I can use the digital tools that I've picked up here to showcase what my children are doing during outdoor learning, Google Site for that," went off and produced one, got engagement from parents, got engagement from the staff, got engagement from the pupils as well, and saw the relevance, made that connection between digital learning and, if you like, offline learning.

Robert:
So for me, I think it was not writing off groups of people that perhaps you thought this wouldn't apply to. Tania's already mentioned that the non-teaching staff, the pupil support assistants, and the early years team, they were, in my eyes, some of the groups of staff that were the highlights of this lockdown, because they engaged for the first time ever because they were able to engage. They were actually given that time. Because in a school, you don't have the opportunity to say to staff, "Okay, I've got 10 pupil support assistants. Why don't you guys all go off and do some training on using Google Classroom?" Whereas now, they could actually do that. So that was what I think I learned.

Patrick:
Tania?

Tania:
For me, it was about digital inclusion for pupils. Scottish Government announced 25 million investment in Connecting Scotland project, and each authority got a proportional amount to support digital technology skills remote learning. I guess for us, that was about identifying what we had in our estate, and what we needed to ensure that pupils were included, and were able to access learning. That was as practical as a MiFi dongle to improve connectivity. A device, in some cases. So we actually have distributed 4,407 Chromebook devices, and I think circa about 250 MiFi devices, so that's for families to connect. Then it was about software and systems. So, again, those accessibility tools, what do we need to help pupils access? We may not have the whole attention of a parent/carer at home because they're working at home, and there's that pressure, so things like Read and Write. And I could go into a whole host of benefits there, but I know we're going to come to that at some point. But it was about accessing learning.

Tania:
And then also systems for us, safeguarding systems. And all of this under the umbrella of digital inclusion. So it was about, for me, enabling pupils to access learning, and then behind the scenes, it was also ICT services who we work in partnership with, they're another department in the council, being able to support systems, corporate systems that enable teachers also to connect. So, you know, the Office 365 online, accessing that on any device, that was a fundamental step towards how we delivered remote learning initially, when not everybody had devices. We were working in quite a kind of a challenging background, actually, at the point of lockdown, because we were in the middle of an ICT refresh for our staff. So you can imagine that some had new models, and some didn't. And of course, what device are you going to use? So yeah, digital inclusion for all.

Patrick:
Yeah. I'm glad you said that, because the digital inclusion piece, I've spent my lockdown writing blogs and doing interviews with wonderful people such as yourself. Sometimes, I worry that that digital inclusion piece that people talk about refers only to the device. I look at, for example, in England, I look at DfE, and they talk about all the laptops they're going to give out. But that is inclusion at a specific level, and I get that, and our pupils need devices, but inclusion, for me, the very definition of the term is a whole lot wider. And obviously, Tania, you guys look far beyond the, what I guess some have coined the the tech equity, the devices and the infrastructure, what's critically important, and you've looked beyond that, and you've said, "Right, well, what are the tools?" One of the tools, of course, was Read and Write, I know. You deployed Read and Write recently to all students. Did I get that right? Yeah?

Tania:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Patrick:
So everybody has access to that inclusion?

Robert:
Yeah. We rolled that out. As part of the license that we purchased with Texthelp, we now have access to Read and Write on for every staff member, both at home and at school, and on every Chromebook. We also, we're about to roll out the Windows version as well, so that staff literally can access the Read and Write tools on any device, wherever they are, at any point they want to.

Patrick:
Okay. So that, I mean, one of the things that's come up in a lot of conversations that I've been having through lockdown, is the sort of what I'd call the iceberg model, that model of so many students that are sitting below the waterline that didn't have any identified need, and obviously, as a company, we hope that Read and Write, as an example, can help with that. What other strategies are you putting in place there, or is it about ensuring that pupils have the right, say, in this case, literacy support tools? Or is it about something wider than that? Is it about the tools, or about CPD, or combination of all of the above?

Robert:
I mean, I think that the challenge, yes, it is a combination of all of the above, but the challenge was implementing, Read and Write is a good example, quite recently, implementing that for staff has been easy, because, obviously, staff can engage with training remotely. The pupils, by definition, the pupils who most require the Read and Write tools, you know, will struggle a little bit more with these tools being introduced to them remotely, although I have to say, the way it's been done has been incredible. It actually has had a huge impact already. But when schools go back to school, you know, physically, that's going to make a massive difference even more, when they're actually back in the classroom. So I have no fear with that.

Robert:
In terms of accessibility, again, I think, I mean, the way that I was, I'm just going to go back to something that Tania mentioned, which is that for us, the Connecting Scotland money allowed us to enhance what we already had in place, which was kind of, I suppose, an accessible, friendly Chromebook project. You know? The pupils that we decided for whatever reasons were weighed up and decided upon required a one-to-one device, these pupils already had these devices. So for us, these extra 4,000 Chromebooks that were part of the Connecting Scotland project simply enhanced the needs of those pupils who were digitally excluded. In many other authorities who weren't at the stage as us, these 4,000 Chromebooks were, if you like, the bread and butter, the kind of almost the life support machine. But because of the fact that we already had, at that point, you know, 27, 28,000 Chromebooks out, this was allowing us to really target.

Robert:
We were really proud of the fact that we claim, and there obviously may be exceptions, but we claim that every child in Highland who has required access to a device, whether they're in P1, all the way through to S6, has been able to get access to a device. We've done that through the Connecting Scotland project, and the Chromebook roll-out in the first place, and also just by empowering head teachers to come to us and say, "I've got a pupil who has to go down for a hospital appointment." "I've got a pupil who, for whatever situation has happened, the context has changed. Can we get a device to them?" "I've got pupils on remote islands who just arrived on that island. Can we get a device to them?" We've been able to do that, not overnight, but in a timely manner, so that, in effect, there should not be any pupils who are digitally excluded in Highland.

Robert:
I think that has been the biggest difference, is having the infrastructure in place in the first place. Lots of staff doing training sessions on accessibility. We've got a couple of staff who have offered two or three sessions on how to use the accessibility tools, pre-Read and Write, you know, how do you use the text-to-speech tools of Google Docs? That, for me, is really powerful, is the fact that we all know Read and Write can do these things, but there were some people who were actually doing it already, and to them, Read and Write now is like, "Oh, wow. Someone's taken all the strategies that I was already doing, and made it into one complete package result," basically.

Patrick:
Yeah. Yeah. I think that's, and I'm hoping you guys saw it as well, but I think that's one positive, and I think we all hate taking positives out of what's been a rough year on everybody, but some of the positives that we have seen is wider sort of recognition of the need for accessibility, the need for the widest possible definition of inclusion, actually, for me, it's the practical sense and experience that teachers are embracing, and more importantly, pupils are embracing these tools on their own terms.

Patrick:
So they're kind of like using, you know, we talk a lot about text-to-speech, but using text-to-speech for more than just aiding with comprehension, but for prepping for question and answers, and reducing the stigma of those. I hope that when we all get back and we're all face-to-face again, that it's not the three pupils in the corner of the classroom with a Chromebook using Read and Write, it's everybody goes, "Well, it's useful for me, although I don't use it the same way you use it. I use it this way." I'm hoping that that's a wider kind of positive of what we find out of the last year or so.

Tania:
Yeah. Well, I was going to agree because it's about literacy for all, because once you have that access to literacy, you've got that enhanced ability to communicate and understand. For the pupils, that's really important. For the parents, you've identified one of the, you know, the groups of fault that are benefiting from these tools, but actually, for staff as well. At the moment, we're working in quite a responsive, quite a high-pressured environment, even though you're working at home. Often, the simple things like scanning, reading, and checking email content makes sense, and just simple tasks that you would normally do, and you take your time, you're doing that under pressure. Now, some of the tools that you Read and Write, I'm actually seeing offices using, so the ability to read an email back, and check that the content makes sense, the ability to scan documents, highlight, and grab and pull the important bits out of the document. So these little things don't actually account to, you know, they're very simple uses of the tools, but they transform the way you're working as well.

Tania:
So it's not just the kids that are benefiting, and I know many, many children actually, I've got teenagers at home, one who's just left school, but was on the tail end of this, and still keeps in touch with folk at school, and they're really struggling, "Well, tell them to go into their Chromebook, have they accessed this tool? That's going to do it for them." So it's kind of getting the message out there across the board. But yeah, pupils, parents. That also comes back to the digital hub, where we link it to the Read and Write tools and the training, and make sure that if you're a parent or a young person, and you need more information, you can easily get it, and, of course, the recorded trainings there as well.

Patrick:
Well, I think, Tania, though, on a personal level, very disappointed I only appear in the digital hub once. I think we may need to address that after the podcast recording today. The lovely Anna, who clearly outshines me in every way possible, and I get that, I do, but yeah, no, look, I totally agree there, Tania. We've looked back on your vision, your plan, how the teams come together, the sort of deployment types that are in play, how you've been supported with national strategies, and how you have supported your colleagues and your peers.

Patrick:
And I suppose with that in mind, maybe just want to look forward, and we touched upon it earlier, I open up a lot of my webinars with, "Technology has increased, and inclusion is more recognized than it ever was before. We hope all those things are here to stay." What does the future look like in Highland for your pupils, for your adoption, for the models you've put in place? Are they here to stay? Is it going to be more widely used? Is it going to be more pedagogy focused? What's the future hold over the next year to two years in Highland?

Tania:
Yeah. I was just going to give you kind of the, just because of the strategy and the policy bit, you know, we are, I think, one of the first authorities in Scotland, if not the UK, to adopt a full digital strategy moving forwards, and building on COVID for 2021 and beyond. That puts digital learning skills and technology at the heart of the curriculum. That's really key and fundamental. We've moved, I think, five years over the course of a year with our technological ability. So we're focusing very much on the skill set, the skills for our young people. And do you know what? I think, I say this because I actually think it quite strongly, it's not about lost learning, it's about skills we've developed. It's building on the opportunities that we've created.

Tania:
So from a strategy point of view at the center, it's about utilizing that estate, moving forward. Yes, there's going to be the increasing financial capital required, but we're talking about skills of our young people for the future, and outcomes for young people. You can't put a price on that. I'm sure you can. I'm sure our chief exec would have something to say about that. But in that vision of kind of digital, and the 21st century, moving beyond

Patrick:
I think, Tania, I think, well, on one side, I think you've just given me the title of my next blog piece. I have to copyright it and revenue and commission that you guys should have getting for your implementation strategies. That may be another one. But on a serious note, though, I do think that's very important, and we're spending, there's a lot of discussion around the learning gap and lost learning. I do think we have to do exactly as you've said there, Tania, and just take a step back, and say, "Yes, but what have we gained during this time? What opportunities have we opened up? What skills have been developed? What flexibility?" I've heard of, personal friend of mine, her son, on the autistic spectrum, really struggled with school. Do you know, he's never been happier than going up to his bedroom with his laptop, and he is absolutely excelling.

Patrick:
We kind of recognize that there are gains here to be made, and I hate the word in the context of what we've all been through, but you're right, it's building on those skills, and making sure that they're here to stay, and all the lessons that we've learned. And that, I mean, Robert, what's your kind of thought? Aside from the strategic plan going forward, what's going to stay with us for the next while?

Robert:
Yeah. Actually, almost go back to that point that I made at the start, is that I think that think anytime learning, and I still want that utopian dream of that pupil being able to open their Chromebook at half past 10, because what I want to happen is, I want staff to be at the point where they actually see the value, when a pupil opens their Chromebook, their initial response is not to say, "We told you we're not doing technology just now. We're doing literacy." I want them to be able to open, capture that piece of learning, reflect on whatever it is they're doing, using that device. But that would show me that A, the pupil knows what tools to go to at that particular point, it would show me that the staff member knows that what the pupil is doing now is not using the Chromebook as a distraction, they're actually using it as a learning tool in the same way that they might pick up a pencil and make a note on a bit of paper.

Robert:
What I want is, I think in some people's heads, there's this notion that we go back to face-to-face learning, and the digital stuff stops, and there are some people, I think who would say, "We go back into school, it's all digital." And of course, you know what I'm going to say here, it's somewhere in between. It's knowing when the right time to use the tools would be.

Robert:
I think that's what I'm hoping, in some ways, Tania and I are slightly putting our own, I suppose, our own claimed success on the line, because we're confident, and I am confident, genuinely, that digital learning has moved forward significantly. But the proof will only be in the pudding when pupils actually have access to non-digital learning at the same time, and when staff have access to non-digital learning, what difference does it make? Have we moved past that notion of ICT time? Have we moved past that notion of, "Let's use the Chromebook to type up piece of writing." That, for me, is the real kind of vision and hope.

Patrick:
If I just could summarize from my perspective, because unfortunately, we're nearly out of time today. It's been a brilliant conversation. For me, and I don't know if you two agree, I'd love to hear your input in some few final words, for me, this is about opportunity. I think COVID, for all the horribleness that we've all been through, has created this opportunity. But it's now our job, I think and feel as educators, to do what, I know I've been talking about it, and I'm sure you've been talking about it for years, we need to provide opportunities in learning for these tools to be used. That's all it takes for this additional step, provide the opportunities, give our pupils that extra room. We've given them, in your case, infrastructure. We've given them equity of access. We've given them inclusive tools. You've instituted some fantastic CPD. All of the elements for success are there. But I do think we just need to keep creating the opportunity. I don't know if you guys have any thoughts Tania, just on that.

Tania:
I would agree. I would say it's about consistency of expectation in that support. So schools are so pressured for time, so are parents and carers, that we need to be supporting continually, and developing programs that move those skills forward. So yes, it has. It's been a horrible time for many, many folk. And we kind of have this virtual world that we're comfortable with, most of the time. But I would say it's actually about that consistency, moving forward. And actually, teams like ours not disbanding. It's not a project here. It's about moving those skills forward, and embedding them in learning.

Robert:
Yeah. I would agree. I think, for me, it's about having a little bit of bravery, and a little bit of courage to say, and a lot of staff, even just hearing those words, "If you make a mistake, then so what? It's what you learn from that mistake." I think on a corporate level, we did that. We took the plunge, and went with this Chromebook project on a team level ourselves. We took that plunge. Tania and I were working almost parallel to each other, previous to getting together in this situation. And to be perfectly honest, without COVID, we probably would not have got together as a team, and I think the Council would not be in the same place digitally that we are. I think hearts and minds have been changed as a result of what we've done, but more importantly, what staff and pupils and parents have done to drive this forward. I think that it's about a little bit of bravery, a little bit of risk-taking.

Robert:
And I think, if nothing else, it's shown that if you do take that risk, then you know what's around the corner is achievable, and can actually be, you know, you can cope with what's thrown at you. Because what is going to be thrown at you that's going to be more, I suppose, impactive than a global pandemic that sends everybody from being in school to working from home? I think that, and it's not being smug about it, but I think that as an authority, and as a team, we've demonstrated that, actually, learning does continue, it does take place, it’s a different kind of learning, but that learning and schools in Highland have not been closed.

Patrick:
Well, and I think just to round off, little did I know that five or six years ago when I was standing in a hall in Inverness talking to some people from Highland, that right now, in 2021, would have a global pandemic, and you'd have rolled out 30,000 Chromebooks. But I think what I would say is, a huge hats off both to the senior leadership, to your team, to all the staff, and the pupils and the parents who've been involved in what has been an incredible journey, an incredible process, has clearly, infinitely benefited everybody involved, and, for me, is a real template of success going forward.

Patrick:
So I just want to thank you, Tania, and you, Robert, for your company today. And as we say here in Northern Ireland, for the craic, because there's always good craic when all of us get on the call. If I need to explain what that word is to other people, just Google it. That's probably the best way to do it. I want to thank you for your time. We really, really appreciate it here at Texthelp. We're always pleased to be working with you guys in any shape, manner, or form. Thank you for your contributions.

Patrick:
For our listeners today, I hope you find it of value. Time has flown today. It's been a fabulous time with the guys from Highland. But do let us know what you found to be interesting on the podcast today. Do ask questions, and we'll forward those on to Tania and to Robert, and to the wider team, and hopefully, they can help us out. We're all about learning here on this podcast, and our listeners, we all want to learn together. I think there's lots that we can learn from the team in Highland. So do tweet us @texthelp, and include the hashtag, #TexthelpTalks, and we'd be happy to put those questions to Tania and Robert. Thank you for your time today. Really appreciate it. We'll see you again soon on the next Texthelp Talks Podcast. Don't forget to subscribe on your favorite or preferred podcast player or streaming service. We'll see you again soon.