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It takes a village: Perspectives on EdTech with South Lanarkshire Council

Getting funds to invest in technology is really only the first hurdle for schools and local authorities. Driving adoption of these tools also presents challenges. That's because there are a lot of stakeholders and voices within education. To be able to select the right tools and drive usage there needs to be engagement with the whole school community.

In this episode, we hear from different perspectives to help local authorities and schools on their EdTech journey. Listen as South Lanarkshire Council share their story to rolling out devices and software across their 150 schools. You'll learn from education support officers, right through to parents.

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Don't miss South Lanarkshire's event on 12th September at Duncanrig Secondary School to discover how they are making use of a variety of tools, including Read&Write. Book your spot here.

Transcript

Andrew Campbell:
Welcome to the Texthelp Talks podcast. We've got a host of experts covering a range of topics from education right through to the workplace. So make sure you subscribe through your preferred podcast player or streaming service, so you never miss an episode. You can also join the conversation using #TexthelpTalks. My name's Andrew Campbell, and I'll be your host for today's podcast. I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts, but this is my first time hosting one. So, I'm delighted to be here today. I work within the education team at Texthelp and I'm the Group Schools Manager.

Andrew:
I've been with Texthelp for just over 10 years now. In that time, I've worked with a lot of groups of schools to support their deployment of Texthelp tools. So, that could be Multi Academy Trusts, Local Education Authorities, National Education Authorities. And today, as usual with this podcast, we're here to discuss all things EdTech, but more specifically, and tied in with my role and why I'm here hosting today, we're going to look at how a local authority can get the most value from the technology that they choose to invest in.

Andrew:
We're going to be joined today by guests from South Lanarkshire Council. And South Lanarkshire, they've invested a lot of time, a lot of effort into digital technology that includes our own Read&Write software. We know the start of that journey is getting the funding for technology and deciding to do it. It's really only the first hurdle. And there are a lot of stakeholders, a lot of voices within education that we need to get on board. The good news is that we share the same goal and that's to improve teaching and learning experiences for students and to improve their outcomes. So to ensure that the EdTech will improve those outcomes, we have to choose the right tools. We have to drive usage within the schools.

Andrew:
We have to face challenges and learn from them. And we have to measure that success as we go. And to do all those things, we need engagement with the wider school community. So it really is a journey adopting EdTech across a group of schools. And today we're going to hear about South Lanarkshire's journey. It takes a village to make it all work. And we'll hear about that journey from a different perspectives within the education community in South Lanarkshire, ranging from council support officers through to schools, through to parents.

Andrew:
So, welcome my guests today. So we're joined by Karen MacLeod who's Education Support Officer at South Lanarkshire Council. Gemma Dunsmuir who is the Digital Development Officer at South Lanarkshire Council, Karen Robinson, Principal Teacher of Support for Learning at Carluke High School and Flora Neville who's the parent of a P7 pupil at Biggar Primary School and an S6 pupil at Bigger Secondary School. Flora is also the chair of the parent council.

Andrew:
So, you're all very welcome today. Thank you very much for joining me. And we'll start at the beginning. I'll come to you first, Karen MacLeod and I'll be interested to hear all of your views on this, but I just want to hear about your decision to invest in digital technology and within that with Read&Write as well. So start with you Karen MacLeod. So why that journey started for yourselves at South Lanarkshire Council.

Karen MacLeod:
Yeah. And I'm delighted to be on speaking to you today, Andrew and delighted to share our story from South Lanarkshire which started a good few decades ago, really with a recognition I think at that time, by the leaders in South Lanarkshire that technology was already playing quite an important part in learning and teaching it wasn't just being used as a utility for administration and the odd sort of subject area. So they could see the potential of that. But I think they also, at the time felt that the teachers could easily be hampered by technology too. So they wanted to try and negate that as much as possible. So at that time we invested in a managed service contract with RM Education and that partnership continues to this day and it was all around the strategy called Time to Teach, to let the teachers and the learners focus on learning and teaching and not have the technology sort of getting in the way.

Karen M:
So fast forward to 2016. And we looked to adopt Chromebooks as our mobile device offering in our schools. And that was proving to be really popular. The devices just worked. They were really easy to use, lots of good battery life and so on. And that kind of almost made the devices invisible and teachers and learners were starting to look at, "Well what can they do with the device beyond an internet browsing option for them?" So we adopted what's now called Google Workspace. And as part of that, we discovered Read&Write, and that was the sort of freemium version at the time. And really it really started to grow organically from there because staff and learners found it quite an intuitive tool to use and lots of word of mouth and the positive feedback we were getting and very much being championed by our early adopters meant we started to look at it a bit more seriously at headquarters as well.

Karen M:
And one of the staff who was pivotal, I suppose, in this journey for us with Read&Write was Vicky Schoenhoffen who had come from another local authority that had adopted this and brought with her a wealth of experience. And Vicky's no stranger, I think, to a lot of Texthelp podcasts. Some of you will have heard from her previously. And so through discussions with Vicky and some other staff, we look to seriously look at how we could then make use of this across our estate and through some partnership with yourself, Andrew and our ICT coordinators and Google Trainers of which we've got a vibrant community. We also spoke to a few other local authorities, Highland and Midlothian. That was enough to convince us of the benefits of full adoption of Read&Write tool, and then taking us into present day.

Karen M:
Something that Gemma will speak about is we were handing out devices to help children and families engage digital learning during the pandemic. But again, we were very conscious of the fact that handing someone a device doesn't solve a problem and some respects it can actually cause some problems and certainly some frustrations around how you access learning and so on. So we did a bit of work around how we could make sure Read&Write was used by our learners to help them to access learning and for teachers to deliver effective teaching through that device. So, yeah, it's something that we very much see as being essential for some of our students, but absolutely useful for all and I think that's been born out by some of the feedback we've started to collect. But I think important to stress we're kind of at the beginning of the journey, we've only really had the full version for a year now and exciting to see how the adoption's going.

Andrew:
Brilliant. Thanks, Karen. I think memory from working with yourselves to get to the point where you actually took on Read&Write, a lot of the hallmarks we mentioned before about actually making the decision to invest in technology. It took a lot of stakeholders, took a lot of people. You certainly done your due diligence on it all. And we worked together to get a lot of voices involved in making that decision. So glad we're here now with it. So Gemma I'd be interested to hear from your perspective then on that as well.

Gemma Dunsmuir:
Yeah. So when I first started in the role of Digital Inclusion Officer, South Lanarkshire Council had already adopted Texthelp Read&Write so I actually came in once they'd already made that decision to take that on. And so I've been able to work with Karen to just try and get that word out of there about Texthelp and that it's there and make schools aware of it and how to use that as well. So we've been doing some training and we've did that with some staff, which are support for learning teachers, part of the extended community team.

Gemma:
And also I've been working with small groups in schools as well, just to see how they're working with Texthelp and what they've found to be really beneficial from it. So that I'm able to feed that back to staff. My role as well is I do that half of the week and the other half of the week, I work for the extended community team in South Lanarkshire Council. So that's a group of Specialist Support Teachers who work peripatetic to support schools. My main focus is working with pupils who have English as an additional language. So I'm also able to see the benefits of this as a class teacher and how to use this in class to support pupils as well.

Andrew:
Brilliant. Thank you. And be interesting then, so we've heard from yourselves from the local authority side of things, and I suppose the theme for today's podcast is that it takes a village to make these things work and it takes not only the decision to be made at local authority, but it also involves teachers and parents alike. So from your perspective, Karen Robinson, as I mentioned, a Principal Teacher for Support for Learning, from your side of things how have you seen the decision to invest in digital technology as a whole, and then also Read&Write as part of that.

Karen Robinson:
Okay. I suppose I should start by explaining a little bit about my journey or how I arrived at believing that we absolutely had to invest in this. I have three adult children. My youngest is significantly dyslexic and also has a diagnosis of Aspergers. And he had a lot of support when he was at school, but it was very much about getting support from a person so people would read and scribe for him. And when he left school, he had, and the support was great. It's not criticism of the school, that's what we had in place at the time. But when he left school, he had absolutely no self-belief in himself as a learner, for reasons, in addition to his dyslexia and the problems his autistic view caused him. He was not independently able to read and write at great length.

Karen R:
And so his options were quite limited when he left school and that was a real shame. And then I came into teaching. I wasn't a teacher during my son's education. I came into teaching 10 years ago and became aware of the fact that there were other options. But at that time, our digital devices, our WiFi, that it wasn't stable. We didn't have the knowhow. We didn't have the technology available to really effectively and consistently support pupils. So, I came into support for learning as PT four years ago. And one of my first trips out was to Edinburgh to CALL Scotland to be part of the Digital Question Paper Focus group. And I was blown away by what I was hearing. There were digital papers that were available. I was hearing about how this could bring independence for pupils, the skills that they could have, the difference it would make to the attainment.

Karen R:
And I was hearing about the problems and the challenges as well. And so I came back from that absolutely determined that I was going to make a difference in the school that I'm in to the learners that we have here to help them gain the skills that would help them get their qualifications, help them to be independent in their learning and help them in that journey beyond school. So for me, it was a no brainer. The decision to invest personally and professionally was just there. It was all about taking other people with me.

Andrew:
Absolutely. Flora from your perspective as a parent, have you seen the investment in terms of digital technology by the authority in the schools? How has that impacted you and your own children at the schools?

Flora Neville:
It's just about like what Karen's just said there, about how exciting it is, because it is very, very exciting that we now have technology and we have technology that's available and programs like this that make a significant difference to not just the academic part of a child's journey through school, but also to the overall experience because having a child who's, I've got one child who's not dyslexic or anything like that, and one child who's severely dyslexic with a brain injury. And the barriers between the two are incredible.

Flora:
And it's not just, as I say, the in school barrier, it's the whole impact that has of feeling like you're not achieving like other people are and all the rest of it. So things like this make a difference in their life, not just about being at school and learning. It has a huge impact across the board. And I think it's so important and not just for children who have some kind of challenge or need or whatever else, but to all children, because technology, as we know is the way forward. And I've not written a report in a long, long time, probably in 20 years. But it's being able to use the different mediums and different ways of achieving what each child individually needs to achieve. So it's really important.

Andrew:
Brilliant. Thank you. So Karen Robinson, you did touch on this a bit, but I'll come back to you, Karen MacLeod for this, the next part. So you've made the decision to invest in technology as a whole, join the Google platform, Chromebooks, ourselves, as part of that. What sort of challenges have you faced in that journey? And more importantly, how have you, how have you overcome those?

Karen M:
I think, yeah. As you alluded to, I think Karen already spoke about this, but one of the biggest challenges we face is that communication barrier and plugging the training gap for staff and for learners. So people can't use what they don't know exists. That's the first thing. So if they don't know it's there, that they're not going to even want to seek out any help in how to use it. So we have a large local authority, 150 schools almost. And we're looking at maybe about 50,000 pupils, three and a half thousand staff. Then on top of that more support staff, it's a real challenge to get that message out there. And there's nothing more frustrating than when you eventually put something in front of someone and they say, "Oh my goodness, I wish I knew that existed."

Karen M:
For example, during the pandemic. And you think, "Wow, that's such a shame." Because we did have access to some of these tools at that time, although not all. So the communications that the first hurdle, and for me working at the center, I'm trying to always battle that problem of achieving scale. So getting that message out there and then getting people trained up to use things effectively. And I think in some respects, the pandemic did us a little bit of a favour because while staff were having to work from home, although they were trying to maintain some kind of learning and teaching, they did have the time on some occasions to join webinars. And we know that we got huge uptake from our webinars during that time. And as you and I have spoken about Andrew, my goodness, it's dried up a little, let's just say, since the return to school.

Andrew:
Yeah. I think everybody's webinared out at this point, maybe.

Karen M:
And that is this digital fatigue that we're hearing this phrase, aren't we? That people are starting to get a little bit fatigued by it. And we're really craving the face to face contact. So while staff and pupils were returning to school, we were still under huge restrictions with regards to any kind of training happening face to face was still not really allowed. We're only very tentatively moving back to that now. So that's proved to be even a bigger challenge to actually reach the staff, but we're slowly chipping away at it. And I think what we're trying to do now, and Gemma has been a huge help with this. We're now looking at targeted training. So rather than, although we've done some great webinars with Texthelp, and we direct people to our staff learning center where all SLC staff have access to that, and all of our training goes up there.

Karen M:
That's great for people to get a flavour of what Texthelp is and how they can use it. But we know that personal engagement is what really grabs people's attention. So we've started to target specific groups. So we've done some training with our specialist support teams. We've now got sort of champions from each of our four large geographical areas who are getting into schools and really championing the cause of Read&Write. Also, speaking to our ASN colleagues and their inclusion service, and reaching out to schools individually, but also our ICT coordinators trying to do some bespoke training with them as well.

Karen M:
So, and also trying to run some events that maybe spotlight some of this good practice using these digital tools, because it's all about just like, it's not just about a device, it's also not just about a tool, it's what you do with it and what the impact is. Once you show people that, you very much get them on board, and I'll kind of come back to this at the end, but we're going to be having an event in September where staff from across Scotland can come to South Lanarkshire and see how we are making use of a variety of tools in including Read&Write.

Andrew:
Perfect. It's interesting. You said there about you putting, you can't use what they don't know exists. Last week, I was showing my own 16 year old niece a couple of things. I was asking her how school was going. And I was showing her a couple of different tools she could be using one within Google Workspace, but also a couple things on Read&Write. And she turned around and gave me a hug and she said, "That's going to make my life so much easier." She almost had a tear in her eye. I was like, "This is the 16 year old who usually when I come in just sort of heads off with her headphones in and doesn't bother." But it was amazing for me to see that she didn't know it was there. I'm her uncle, I should have showed it to her five years ago, but it was nice to see that impact that it had.

Karen M:
It's the one thing I miss from teaching is getting that kind of wow moment with kids. I'm now getting that to some extent with staff when I show them some of the things that we do now have available and they're like, "Oh wow. I can totally see how I'm going to use that." And I'm really excited then to hear how they use it too.

Andrew:
Nice. That occasional wow when I'm doing demos, that's that keeps me going. A wee wow every so often. Gemma, I suppose then you're kind of the bridge in this sense between the authority and the schools, if you work between the two. From your point of view, what sort of challenges have you seen beyond that? And again, how have you overcome them?

Gemma:
Yeah. So just as Karen has said as well, raising that awareness is the biggest challenge, getting all teachers to be aware of what's actually there and how they can use that to support pupils as well. And raising that awareness with pupils. So a lot of pupils I'd worked with had said, "Oh, I'd seen that puzzle piece, but I wasn't sure what it was yet." So really showing them how it can help them to build up their independence is really, really important.

Gemma:
But some of the pupils I've been working with as well, is not just showing them how to work, Texthelp, Read&Write, what I'm finding is that actually their digital literacy skills need to be raised as well and need to be worked on so that they're able to access documents and share them with their class teacher and be sharing them on their Google Drive. And so what you've got is you've got all of these other digital skills that they need to know as well. And even just getting logged on at first as well and how to navigate through that. So it's getting pupils raising those skills. So actually when they come to do it, it's something that they can do really naturally and really easily as well when they come to do work in digital.

Gemma:
And some of the pupils I've been working with and I'm showing them how to work it. And they're saying that all the benefits they can have from it, I think it needs to be continued that they're regularly using that. And they're using it in all lessons and with all members of staff. So it's something that's consistently being used and not being used maybe now and again, or as a one off on a piece of work. I think for the pupils to really build those skills up, they need to be accessing it on a regular basis. But that comes with challenges as well, because a lot of the primary schools, maybe they have set a set number of Chromebooks and classes might have allocated times. So it's trying to integrate it into lessons and integrate it into the learning that it's not standalone, but that can be really difficult if they have set times to be using devices. So these are some of the challenges that teaching staff are facing when they're trying to get pupils to use this regularly.

Andrew:
Yeah. I suppose that consistency's key with it. And as you say, you're preparing them for what they're going to do next. And that's the kind of thing they'll be using all the time in third level education, in the workplace. So the more they can use it the better, hopefully. Yeah.

Gemma:
Yeah. And I think it's one of those things we really want to promote it, that it's for all pupils and that all pupils can benefit from using it so that it's not just some pupils who maybe need support with their learning, that all pupils are using it in some way, if they're using it for the highlighting tools or taking notes or for the planning stage on their voice notes. So that it becomes something that is being used by everybody on a regular basis.

Andrew:
Yeah. And Karen Robinson, you spoke on some of the challenges already, but any other ones you want to highlight and again, stuff you've covered both around Texthelp and technology in general?

Karen R:
It's interesting just listening to what Karen and Gemma have been saying, because I'm actually reflecting and thinking we've actually made quite a bit of progress with some of the challenges in school already because we've been aware of them. So our SLT have invested a lot of support in driving the digital agenda forward. So we've got digital literacy classes already embedded in the BGE. So when pupils are coming in first and second year, they are being taught how to log on. They're being taught how to, all pupils are being taught how to use the Texthelp, Read&Write tools, which is great for inclusion. And as we know, as you've already made reference to it Gemma, if they're not using it all the time, then they forget how to use it. And some of them will still turn around and say, "Oh, I don't know what that is." But they do.

Karen R:
And then when you sit down with them, they immediately recognise it. So it's about keeping that consistency going. We are trying to overcome the barriers of pupils knowing how to use the Texthelp tools by encouraging them to borrow and take text rich subjects like social subjects, English, so that they're getting that opportunity to consistently use the tools because we want them, A to be able to use it and access the curriculum day to day and B, we want them to be able to access assessments and exams so that they, there's that equity when they come to sit and show what they know. And that's what equity is, isn't it? It's about giving the right tools at the right time, so everybody can compete on an even playing field. And so we are aware of the challenges that we've talked about and that I would say that we are doing what we can with the technology that's available to us.

Karen R:
And with the knowledge that we have available to us, we've got that commitment by our SLT to drive it forward. But the challenge exists to make sure that children are using those tools as often as they possibly can, so that they're familiar with them. And there's education to happen there for pupils, for the people who look after them at home. And for our teaching staff, when Karen and I were talking the other week, I was saying, interestingly, when we started our journey, it was our science teachers that were really driving this forward because the real challenge in school is supporting pupils because we have limited resources. And so digital tools have been, as I've already said, they're a real game changer to overcome that challenge, but it's making sure everybody's got the knowledge. And, and I think that's really interesting that people have been talking about champions. Maybe we need more champions getting in there and really showing how this technology can make a difference.

Andrew:
It was interesting, you said there Karen just about your own senior leadership team took an interest to it, do you think that is key in, and actually when a decision's made at authority level to invest in digital technology, and that message comes down to schools is senior leadership team buy in. Is that key to it? Is it important? What do you think?

Karen R:
Yeah, I think it's a multi-level process, isn't it? You need the authority support. Your SLT need to know that there's value in something to invest in it and take it forward. So you need people within the school or within your SLT who can show that and show that there is value to drive that forward and invest in it. We've been able to do that because we can see the difference that's made.

Karen R:
So I was going to talk a little bit later about impact, but just to show the difference that it makes to pupils when they're sitting assessments. So we can go and say, "Well, pupils have sat assessments. They've been able to use the digital reader and access that paper themselves." We've been able to show in SQA exams for our Diet this year. Our English exam for example, is normally, we're having to invest heavily in human resources to support pupils with readers and scribes. The majority of our pupils were using digital tools. So that's impact, that's impact on learners, it's impact on sustainability, it's impact on the sort of the economic output in terms of paying people to support, having to cover classes.

Andrew:
That's usually one that'll get the senior leadership's attention if you can help out on the economical side. That's certainly something we mention when we speak to schools on that sense. Yeah. It's interesting as well, you said about equity of access and that's something certainly in my years, working with authorities, that really is the key to it is providing the same tools to every child, right across an authority and there's responsibility on everybody to deliver that equity of access, not just about the tool or what you're using. It's actually driving it as well. Flora, from your point of view, as a parent, any challenges that you've seen from the adoption to technology with your own children or other parents you've spoken to?

Flora:
Yeah. And just what Karen and Gemma and Karen have all said here, it's having the knowhow as well, is that as a parent, you need to have a clear understanding of what's available and what the options are. And again, then being able to encourage your child and support your child to do that. But you need to know as a starting point, because they don't always, as we know as parents, we are the last to know and your parent, your children don't always tell you what's going on with it, what did they do at school today - nothing. So you need to know what they're doing and to be able to then support them. And I think getting that is exactly what Gemma said that you want to be every child using this all day every day is second nature is the key thing, as opposed to just dipping in and out of it. I've seen various programs and pieces of technology and things that have been amazing.

Flora:
But if a child is only dipping in and out of that and not using that consistently, then it's not always their first protocol. They've, say you've forgotten so you need to then reiterate or go back over what they need to be doing with this and how to access it. And I think something like this, if it's used daily in and out of school to do homework and project and whatever else is, it will just be amazing to get that in place. But there needs to be the resource obviously and the backup and everything to make that happen. And then I know to then roll that to parents as well that they then have because I mean, what I've learned just by being involved in and looking at Read&Write.

Flora:
And using it and things, it's fantastic. I mean the tools are amazing. And again children are so much more advanced with technology and I've learned things and it's for all children and all adults and everybody. It's a brilliant program. And I think Karen mentioned it as well, it's about giving children that independence is really important that they don't have to have somebody with them. And because there is with the best will in the world kids don't want somebody else to be with them all of the time. So being able to do things independently and be able to get on and do it on their own without having to involve a teacher or a support assistant or something like that as well, is really important to them and their mental health and well-being and all these things that come into it. So it's not just about being able to access something. It's the whole picture and the whole experience of that.

Andrew:
Of interest, so when an authority decides to go down the digital technology route or they find a certain tool, they find useful. From your perspective, Flora, as a parent, what makes it stand out to you or what makes you engage with something that the schools and the authorities are trying to do in terms of digital?

Flora:
Just the information and the education of a parent. I don't mean of the child. I mean, of the parent of what does it actually mean to the child? What can it bring, how does it enhance their experience and help them in school? And I think having things like workshops for parents or podcasts or whatever else so that people understand it. I mean, I still speak to people who struggle to get on Google Classroom or whatever else. So it needs to be clear for parents as to what is available and what it can actually do.

Flora:
And I think having kind of groups or education or podcasts or whatever the medium is really important to engage with parents and tying that in with maybe parents nights and whatever else, parent councils as well. We can support and feed that out to the parent forum as well in different channels and bring that into our meetings and everything as well. So I think it's important that the whole school body is involved and to bring the parent forum into that because you need the parents to support in that as well, obviously.

Andrew:
Yeah, absolutely. As I said before, it takes a village and parents are such an important, important cog in that machine as well, making that work and having that same support at home. I suppose, on that, we've discussed the thinking behind why you've went down the digital technology route in South Lanarkshire and of course invested in Read&Write. So be interested to hear from you what impact you've seen so far. So obviously you're in early enough stage with your Read&Write deployment we're less than a year in at this stage. So it was there for a wee while before on a bit of a trial basis. So interested to hear the impact that's had, but also just digital technology as a whole. What sort of impact you've seen in that? So start with you, Karen MacLeod from an authority point of view, what sort of impact you've seen there?

Karen M:
Yeah. In terms of Read&Write. Yeah. It's kind of early days, but we've started to capture some feedback on that and Gemma would be able to speak a bit more about that because that's one of the things she's been doing with the groups that she's been working with. And just to go back slightly to what Flora was saying, something we've spoken to Flora about is that sort of engagement with parents. I think we recognise that is absolutely crucial to engagement in, not just Read&Write, but in digital, we really need to work in much closer partnership. The pandemic taught us that very much so. So very much kind of capitalising on the parents' perspective and the information we get working with parent forums and parent councils and so on. So that's definitely something sort of going forward.

Karen M:
We're going to focus on a little bit more. But I think what I'm seeing, certainly anecdotally just now from staff is a very strong representation coming from the staff that I speak to. When I say to them, we're going to have to make sure that this year we very much capture impact and case use stories and so on because there'll be decisions to be made around how we spend the public's money. And we are accountable for that. And rightly so, we should be. So we really need to make sure we're getting bang for our buck, with whatever we invest our money in. And it's interesting to say, not that I'm seeing fear in their eyes when I say these things that, is there any suggestion we're going to lose this tool? But I think in some respects that's a good sign because it shows that they absolutely value it.

Karen M:
And they're almost determined not to lose it. And they're happy I think, to do anything and help in any way they can to make sure that they don't then lose access to these tools that they find have had huge benefit for their pupils. And I think that was something that Karen Robinson and I were speaking that we talked a bit about that. So certainly anecdotally, I can very much say that I'm starting to see some impacts coming through there, but yeah, we do need to capture that more formally and present it. And in terms of technology as a whole, again, I think what's really lovely is that, and I didn't mention this under challenges and it wasn't deliberately missed out, just didn't want to hog the airwaves, but clearly there are always technical challenges when it comes to technology, it's just the nature of things.

Karen M:
And we've had our technical challenges as well with deployment of tools and so on, even making the right decisions around what we put into our schools and what have you. And I think generally speaking, our schools are in a fairly good position. We don't don't leave any school behind every single school in South Lanarkshire gets a baseline of kits every year. They get it refreshed every four years. So that means brand new technology goes in so that we don't have a pile of old equipment lying gathering dust in a corner because very past, bitter experience from a good number of years ago taught us that really anything after four or five years, it starts to misbehave. So we have a policy of that, but that brings with the challenges that costs a lot of money to do as well. But what I think is really great is that staff are really starting to push for, but we want more.

Karen M:
So they're seeing the value of this in their learning and their teaching in their classrooms, the impact on their children. They're seeing the value of technology and they're pushing for more of it. So certainly something that we are obviously looking towards is a deployment of one to one devices. And we currently have over 15,000 Chromebooks in South Lanarkshire and that's almost matched by the number of windows devices we have, and that's not even counting all the iPads and Macs and so on, we have for specialist areas. So we have a fair amount of technology in the school, but I think what we're seeing a driver for here is for that easy access as Karen alluded to a mobile device that can just be there when it's required. We also want to stress that digital isn't always the answer.

Karen M:
And there are times when children and learners and young adults aren't going to be using digital technology. But it's having that ease of access that as a teacher myself of over 25 years, I appreciate that's going to make a big difference. So it's a challenge for sure that we face, but I think it's a positive one because it shows that people believe in the power that's behind these devices and what they can now achieve. So that's something that we very much work with our schools and the Scottish government because obviously that's part of their pledge to education that a one-to-one device model is something that's going to be available to all children in Scotland.

Andrew:
Yeah. It's a brilliant pledge that they've put in place Scotland, are very much very lucky what to have in that sense for, looking from the outside. That's that opportunity be there for every student, from what I see. Gemma, Karen mentioned you had looked at some of the impact and you'd worked with some groups around impact. That's something you could share with us as well.

Gemma:
Yeah. So I've been lucky enough the past few weeks to be out in different schools, a mixture of primary and secondary across the authority and working with groups within those schools using Texthelp Read&Write, and just to see the difference that it's making in their work. And to get that word out as well in the schools. The idea behind it is that those pupils will then go on and be ambassadors within their schools to help promote it and to help other pupils as well, and to support them. But the groups that I've been working with when I first started working with them, I purposely didn't use any of Texthelp Read&Write. And we did a really simple writing lesson just to see what the children produced. And in some of the schools that I was in children in the group were reluctant writers.

Gemma:
And so actually what I found is that they were wasting a lot of time on the computer. They were spending more time doing the research than they were to produce any of the writing, or were just really reluctant to get anything down, whether that was typing or they had the choice as well to hand write things down. But when I then showed them Read&Write and we introduced that, and then they had the option to then do a piece of writing using that. It was really interesting to see the difference of what the children produced. So some of the children that had previously not produced anything at all had produced pieces of writing with quite a lot of detail and information in there. So that was really good to see that was having an impact in their lesson, but straight away what I could see was a big improvement in their engagement as well.

Gemma:
So previously compared to when we didn't have the technology, they were much more engaged in the lesson. And just an example, two girls who previously didn't want to write anything actually asked to stay behind after the session and continue their writing, whereas, before I had struggled to get them to produce anything so I could see straight away, this was having a big impact with these children. And I could see a noticeable difference as well. But I think one of the things we've spoke about is that independence. That they're able to build that independence up and be able to do that piece of research on their own by simplifying the webpage down and having it read to them. So what I've found is that they were able to put things into their own words easier as well when they were doing pieces of research, because they weren't as tempted to copy and paste bits in to their word documents.

Gemma:
So just when I could compare pieces of work with, and without I could noticeably see a really big difference. And I think one of the big things is in the secondary school, a group of the pupils shared with me that one of their biggest things that give them the most anxiety in school is reading aloud in front of their peers. And that was the whole group that I had out. And they said even that idea of that they might get chosen to read aloud, really builds them with a lot of anxiety. And when I was able to show them the functions in Texthelp Read&Write that they could record themselves reading aloud and send that to their teacher, they were over the moon with that and happy to read aloud as long as it wasn't in front of their peers, when they start to reach that secondary school age.

Gemma:
And so straight away, I could see that this could have a great impact on them daily if that's something that's causing them a lot of anxiety in lessons. So yeah, it's been great just being out and about, and actually getting to work with pupils and really just getting their feedback as well has been really, really good. And they've been really good and honest and open about feedback and what they're struggling with in class and what they would do and how this would help them. So, yeah, it's been great to get out there and speak to staff as well in different schools.

Andrew:
It's brilliant to hear that I mentioned at the start when we look at what technology to choose, where everyone's sharing the same goal. It's to improve teaching and learning experience to students, and you mentioned there the greater levels of engagement and removal of anxiety and that's what we all hope that technology will do. From your point of view Karen Robinson, do you find the same with your pupils in your school?

Karen R:
Yeah, I was doing a lot of nodding when you were talking there, Gemma, I would 100% echo everything you've said. And it's encouraging to hear that the impact right across other schools who are getting exposure to using the technology is great. I would say the impact here has been very similar in our own school and within our learning community. So part of my job is enhanced transition and I'm going down and doing reviews. And a lot of our children are coming with different levels of reading and writing challenges. And our learning, our primaries are starting to use the Read&Write tools where they've got the technology. Obviously the challenge within that is having enough devices to access, to use, but they're teaching the children those tools now, so that when they come here, they're ready to go with that in their secondary journey.

Karen R:
There's a long way to go. But I think because we can see the impact that the Texthelp tool and access to technology has, and we know the difference it can make to young people. The challenges need to be overcome to make it accessible to as many pupils as possible. I don't know if that's come across correctly or not. It's just about, so the impact is there. We know it can make a difference. We know that more of it will make a difference and having more of it is the challenge. And we have a legal requirement to make technology more accessible to pupils. And so there's lots of impact. We can see, I've already mentioned the SQA exams. When I came to post, we had no SQA digital exams. Some people using ICT for poor handwriting. We had 81 digital exams this year and 44 of those pupils used, or 44 of those exams used the Texthelp tools.

Karen R:
And we were able to get RM to make the Read&Write tool available without the access to the internet. So that made it secure. So that had a massive impact for pupils and pupils who were reluctant to take a reader and scribe but were able to do the exam using the Read&Write tool. And they were like, "This is brilliant. This is really, really good." Now there are challenges to overcome there. We need to make sure that pupils are using it, and they understand it. It has an impact on our support assistance. So we're now with the complexity of needs that are coming more and more into mainstream education. We are able to target the use of our school support assistance to a wider range of needs, and not just to pupils who need somebody to help them with reading and writing. And I could go on, I could fill a podcast with the impact that this can have, and I really, really hope that we get to keep it and keep driving it forward.

Karen M:
Don't give Andrew any ideas Karen.

Andrew:
Careful Karen, what way are you fixed for next Wednesday? And Flora, from your point of view, what sort of impact have you seen again around digital technology and Read&Write within that on your own kids as well there?

Flora:
Well, I've got a very specific example where what really cemented for me, my son was writing a story, and it took about 42 minutes to get down three lines, which I'm not going to lie, was painful on his part and painful for me, trying to help him. And it wasn't a nice experience for either of us. And then with the use of speech to text technology, he then produced, we had a break and then we looked at it again and because he's got the creativity and the idea in his head and everything. It's just putting that down is really, really challenging. And we then used the technology and he created one and a half sides of A4 in 24 minutes. So I don't need to explain any parent or teacher that the impact that has on a child being able to A, complete the homework, but B also the mental health, the well-being, the joy, the happiness of being able to do that.

Flora:
And that for me cemented where technology had to be in his learning and his, I have to say benefited in lockdown because he really perfected the art of speech to text. And now doesn't use much else to be honest. But that's because he can now keep up with his peers. He's not having to bring work home. He doesn't have to do it at different times because he's not where everybody else was. So the impact to that is absolutely huge. And that's what it can do. It can completely transform A, your child and B the experience of even just simple things. What some of us will take for granted of writing a story. But actually that is sometimes a massive challenge, so it can change it significantly.

Andrew:
That's it. Great to hear that Flora and we at Texthelp we engage with parents as much as we can, but it's not something we get to do all that often. So it really is so encouraging. I'm sure, hope the listeners feel the same to hear from yourself the impact that it has sort of goes beyond education and as a parent myself, you worry for your children and you hope the best for them and being able to remove those barriers. It just give you so much more time back in your evenings for things you can enjoy. So it really is, it is great to hear that.

Andrew:
Well, I think that's really all for today. Thank you all very much for joining me. Been really interesting to hear all of your perspectives and as I said before, it takes a village and you can see from how you all engage with each other, all with different roles and different ways to play in actually making that work. It's been interesting to hear from you all. So thank you all again. So that's all for this episode of the Texthelp Talks podcast. We are, of course, the podcast that brings you a host of experts covering a range of topics from education right through to the workplace.

Andrew:
Thanks to our guests for joining us today. Please do join the conversation using #TexthelpTalks. We'd love to hear your thoughts on everything we've discussed today or if you have any questions for my guests today, please send them email or Twitter, whatever it might be. We'll be sure to pass them on and answer those and make sure to subscribe to Texthelp Talks. You can do that through your preferred podcast player or even just your streaming service such as Spotify. And you'll never miss an episode.