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BKCAT: Sourcing affordable laptops for schools

At St Austin’s RC School, part of the Bishop Konstant Catholic Academy Trust, the Trust’s board members, the chief executive and headteachers were clear that no child was to be left behind because of a lack of access to the technology required for home learning.

Today, many schools are still finding it difficult to source affordable and available laptops for students during the global coronavirus pandemic. Supply chains are still recovering, and there is a shortage of computer chips, hurting the availability and affordability of new laptops.

BKCAT needed to acquire extra devices fast

The Bishop Konstant Catholic Academy Trust (BKCAT) conducted a survey in January 2021, during the second pandemic lockdown in the UK, highlighting that around 320 students across 15 schools,did not have access to an IT device.

We spoke to Rob Barraclough, Executive Head at St Austin’s RC School, and Standards Officer at BKCAT to understand how they approached the challenge. He told us, “like many schools, the Academy learned a lot about how not to do remote education during the first lockdown in 2020”.

He explained that “the first lockdown was a struggle, but the second became more digitally focused, using Google’s G Suite Classrooms. A key focus became to enable pupils to access devices in their homes – particularly so the more disadvantaged pupils were not excluded from learning”.

The second lockdown meant schools had to close again, so students were once more forced to study from home. This meant access to a device and an internet connection became an absolute must. But at the start of the lockdown, many students still couldn’t connect from home.

Rob explained that:

“The Trust’s board members, the chief executive and the headteachers were clear that no child was to be left behind because of a lack of access to the technology required for home learning. Therefore, devices must be made available to every pupil and family within the Trust”.

For BKCAT, this equated to sourcing 320 devices – in addition to those provided by the Department for Education. They wanted students to maintain high levels of learning throughout the second lockdown, so time, plus budget, were key factors.

Finding a supply partner was challenging

Rob told us that “in the months before the second lockdown, I had received daily emails from companies who could supply devices, but by the beginning of January, availability had dried up”.

He continued: “When I approached companies to purchase Chromebooks, one of two things happened – I was told none were available, or prices were extortionate, making purchases unviable.”

Reconome was instrumental in providing the equipment needed

Then Rob was contacted by the Reconome team. Reconome has a large stock of affordable high-quality refurbished devices, including Chromebooks. They come with a minimum guarantee of 1 year and were exactly what BKCAT required to facilitate quality remote learning for students.

Rob distinctly remembers, “I placed an order for Chromebooks on Wednesday, took delivery on Sunday and within a week of the second lockdown announcement, the BKCAT had made devices available to our students”.

Laptops for schools is making a huge difference to students’ learning

“The Chromebooks provided pupils and families with real structure. Teachers were holding several online lessons each day, and pupils were expected to attend with the Chromebook provided. It also enabled them to complete the follow-up work.”

The BKCAT found that as pupils came back into school after lockdown two, there were no huge gaps in their learning like those experienced after lockdown one.

As a father of two children, Rob can testify to the impact technology has:

“I noticed my children develop. They could see their friends and teachers on screen, so they felt connected.”

He was able to confirm that “although the benefits of face-to-face classroom teaching can never be replaced, the response the BKCAT has had is that it has helped children to keep up with where they need to be”.

The pandemic has changed the way schools teach and students learn; the new approach means the need for affordable IT equipment is unlikely to go away.

Rob and his peers believe digital learning can enhance traditional learning when the two are blended in the classroom. Although it may mean the pupils get less time with a teacher or adult, the time they do get is far more productive.

He shared an example. Fifteen students from a class of 30 were on a Reading Plus Programme, providing high-quality bespoke and age-appropriate reading opportunities. While they focus fully on that, a teacher can work separately with a further 15 students on a face-to-face lesson. It allows all 30 children to be highly engaged in a learning experience bespoke to their needs. It also means that what the children are offered during the five or six-hour school day is far more beneficial than what was available pre-pandemic.

Rob states that during eight of the nine weeks of the second school closure, children could access high-quality remote learning. He believes that aside from the social and emotional impact of working in a different environment, academically, the BKCAT students have not missed out.

Working with Reconome

“Working with Reconome to provide affordable yet excellent quality Chromebooks in such a short timeframe was crucial. And the innovation and drive demonstrated by the BKCAT teachers has provided exceptional results.”

This has been a fantastic client success story and Rob concludes:

“Reconome gave me the sense that they were in this for the school and pupils as well… they didn’t promise anything they couldn’t deliver in terms of pricing or delivery…as a company, I trust them.”

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