St Helens Council articulated a desire to “transform education” through the use of ICT as part of the Building Schools for the Future initiative. Despite the fact that the Building Schools for the Future initiative was halted, with only half the secondary schools in the borough receiving funding, Agilisys and St Helens Council have sought creative ways of extending the benefits of what funding was available to all schools (primary and secondary).
The Innovation Fund was created from the BSF funding to engage with all schools and elicit ideas from teachers and pupils on the best ideas of how technology could be used innovatively to benefit as wide a group of learners as possible, in a way that would be sustainable in the long term.
What Was The Challenge?
One challenge was simply to encourage enough applications. Initially, schools were wary of having to undertake “bids” for funding because they had done this for unrelated programmes in the past, expending a great deal of time and effort, only to be turned down.
It was also important that the ideas submitted were genuinely innovative and not simply looking for funding for technology that school budgets had hitherto been unable to fund.
We also wanted to make sure that the opportunity to bid was given to the widest range of people, capturing those who have the best ideas, but frequently go unheard.
Marketing for the Innovation Fund began in October 2011 and the application process was made available in March 2012. Emails, letters and other publicity was sent out regularly.
To encourage a wide range of submissions, the application process was made incredibly simple. The only stipulation was that the idea needed to benefit as many people as possible and centre around technology. Applications could be as short as a paragraph, to minimise the time needed to complete it.
Applications have now closed and the initial round of “bids” have been evaluated by a group of teachers from the borough. Agilisys will work with each of the five shortlisted proposals to generate a business case for implementation. The business case will then be put to a governance board to approve funding.
Ideas under development include:
- Video streaming services to cut down on bandwidth used by schools and offer safe and secure video content for teachers and pupils
- Portable recording and storage facility to capture the experiences of pupils, teachers and members of the community and then create e-books from the material
- Webcams fitted to various locations around the borough for pupils to access and witness people and wildlife changes.
The primary expected benefit is for innovative, low cost ideas to be translated into facilities that will benefit children and teachers on a number of variables and give them access to equipment or solutions that would otherwise be unavailable. As such, each business case under development includes clear benefits analysis and measurement protocol.
In addition to these ‘direct’ benefits, the process itself the selected “bidders” will go through with Agilisys to develop their ideas will provide valuable experience in developing a business case and seeking approval for funding. This will give pupils an opportunity to take part in the commercial world and learn important skills for the future.