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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 September 2005, 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK
Teachers face handheld revolution
By Robin Brant
BBC News political reporter

Handheld computer
Teachers are getting to grips with the new tool
When Mr Hadley does registration in class 5H there's no red pen and paper.

It is 0850 and he is standing in front of his electronic white board, tapping away at his PDA (personal digital assistant) as the children respond to their names.

Within seconds of finishing he beams the list to the schools central computer in the main office, and assistant Natalie Crook can check who is in and who is not.

Highfields Primary is one of a few schools leading a pilot scheme to try and wipe out administration in the classroom - the reports, marks, timetables and assessments, that need filing in and then need to be photocopied.

The kind of paperwork that teachers say ties them up, and gives them less time to teach.

Time saving

Every member of staff at the West Midlands school has a PDA, which is a hand held, palm sized computer.

"It obviously saves a lot of time and teacher workload" says Mr Hadley.

"We can now actually assess the children there and then, in the classroom. All the information is stored in electronic form. We get all our data and percentage calculated for us on the screen."

That is the key to this pilot. Saving time by saving the amount of paperwork teachers have to do. It is part of a 30,000 trial.

There have been some teething problems, mostly technical, but it's working.

Homework

As the children go off to lunch a handful of staff meet to discuss what's coming up. They punch in plans for meetings and curriculum, knowing that all of it can be shared and updated in real time. No paper, no photocopying.

Only staff at Highfields Primary have them but by the end of the year a handful of children will get these small computers, dominated by the electronic screen that can show anything from a diary to contact details, to photos and video.

The children will keep homework details on them, and it wont be long before they wont need to visit the shelves around the school to pick up books, because they'll be able to download them from the internet onto their PDA.

Kayleigh McDermott is a fan: "Keeping homework would be good because some times I forget what homework there is."

The nine-year-old is likely to be one of the children who will get the new kit.

"You have to do Henry VIII and his wives and things like that, but I usually put it on the computer and the I look at it on the computer," she says.

Distraction?

Some parents and staff were reluctant initially, because for them new technology doesn't always mean improvements.

"Some people are scared of technology", parent Elaine Adams says. "And children to learn in various ways, and for some children this is a really good way, a good tool to be able to access information and learn from."

There are broader concerns about whether the disposal of pen and paper for is the best way to tackle problems with teaching under-11s the basics.

The latest figures from the government show it is still failing to hit various national targets for reading and writing at Key Stage 2.

Teachers will have to make sure it does not become a distraction as well.

When I asked one 9 year old what he'd use it for he said "downloading music". This trial across the Borough of Sandwell has gone well, so well that there is more money for more schools to join the pilot next year.

Using technology like this isn't meant to banish the pen and paper from classrooms forever, but it is meant to make schools run much more efficiently.

So by the time the bells ringing and the books are in bags the pupils have had more time to learn and the teachers more time to teach.




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