SCOTTISH Borders Council’s leader has moved to dispel fears about the authority’s new digital learning programme, which includes giving iPads to all secondary school pupils.

One of the flagship policies to come out of the Tory/Independent alliance 2019/20 budget is that iPads will be bought for every P6 to S6 pupil, which they will be able to take home and use with their family.  

Devices will also be given to P1 to P5 pupils at a ratio of one for every five children, although these will be kept at their school.

The project will cost £15.7m over a ten-year contract with American technology giant Apple and Canadian firm CGI.

At a meeting of Scottish Borders Council on Thursday 28 March, opposition councillors sought clarification on a number of issues from council leader Shona Haslam.

Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson asked: how much will it cost to provide wifi access for all nine high schools; how much of the budget has been set aside for training teachers; what targets have been set for teachers; and finally, what will be the cost be of charging the iPads, and how will this be achieved?

Councillor Haslam who represents Tweeddale East, replied: “Wi-fi is already available in all Scottish Borders Council schools. The survey work is being contracted via CGI who have appointed a contractor.  

“The council’s agreement with CGI is that the initial wi-fi surveys will be completed by the end of April 2019.  

“Convener, I must admit that I am a bit confused. The opposition and administration both held budget working groups.

“Both groups agreed that this is a good thing to do. It reduces the poverty gap, it improves attainment, it reduces the burden on teachers, and provides digital learning access to ensure our young people are equipped for the future.

“And yet now the opposition are attempting to grill the administration on this policy. I had assumed that during the budget setting process the opposition were as robust as the administration, but these questions clearly show us that they were not.

“What is very clear is that the opposition have not read the papers, do not understand the project and are intent on opposing for opposition’s sake.

“This is a policy that last month you supported, that last month was included in your budget, and that last month thought was a great idea.

“True to form, you think something completely different.”

With regards to teacher training time, Ms Haslam said: “Time has been set aside in the work time agreement for the first year of deployment of five hours dedicated training per teacher. More time will be set aside for training each year.  

“These sessions are to be scheduled in non-contact time and no additional cover requirement, or costs is expected.

“Inspire learning is seen as a way of enhancing the process of teaching and learning, it is not envisaged that there will be a requirement for teachers to transfer existing materials in bulk.

“The iPads can be used to access existing online educational content within glow and they can be used for sharing feedback on pupil’s work without the development of new materials.”

The first iPads will be rolled out to teachers in April 2019, so they can get to grips with them and test out the system.

S1 to S6 pupils will be the first schoolchildren in the Borders to receive their iPads, which will be handed to them in August 2019.

The following year, teachers of P6 and P7 pupils will be given iPads in April 2020, and in August of that year the roll out will be extended to P6 and P7 pupils, as well as to new S1 pupils.

Neither pupils nor their parents will be able to download apps or games to the iPad, as it will come pre-loaded with the necessary apps.

Each iPad will have a block on harmful websites, which will continue even when connected to wi-fi outside of their school. The block will apply no matter which family member is using the iPad.

During classes, the teacher will have complete control over each iPad.

Ms Haslam continued: “Inspire Learning is designed to enhance the delivery of the whole curriculum and best practise will be developed to ensure subject teachers can collaborate effectively.   

“A major benefit of the integrated learning is that teachers can easily share best practice online accessing a wide range of educational materials and do not having to develop subject specific resources by themselves.

“There will be opportunities in the future for subject staff to collaborate between establishments and to share good practice on cross schools days and network meetings days.

The council leader also confirmed that the cost of charging an iPad for educational use will amount to £1 per year, and that students will be expected to bring their iPad to school charged each day.