I go into primary schools quite often, about two per week on average, and the thing I have noticed this term – much more than last year is that a lot of schools are giving up their VLEs.
I would say that in the 10-12 schools I have been in since September, about half of that number started this academic year without a VLE. Not the greatest sample size in the world, but then if you know me at all you’ll know that one swallow always makes a summer!
The reasons that the Head teachers I spoke to for getting rid of their VLE ranged from – “we never used it”, “to it cost us too much money”. One Head, and I won’t say at which school, gleefully told me that she and the Deputy Head had cancelled all of the online subscriptions the school had (Espresso, Education City etc.), plus the VLE and not told any of the teachers…they had a bet to see how long it would be until the teachers noticed the services had gone – and by the middle of October, no teacher had noticed a thing.
Now there are a few things you can take from that anecdote, and a few concerns! But one thing I took from it was that you only get out of a VLE what you put in – and if the management of the school aren’t supportive or active in pushing the VLE then there is little wonder that the teachers didn’t use it.
One thing that does seem striking is that the government policy which dictated that every pupil should have access to a personalised online learning space by spring of 2008 made schools and LAs look at VLEs, and buy into them, but unless well trained and supported they weren’t used. Or, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Time for another anecdote? I think so… Another quite stark example of the way this policy was implemented was in a primary school I know very well. One of the members of staff who left about 12-months ago in her exit interview asked why the school hadn’t invested in a VLE – the shocking answer was that they had, in 2005, they just hadn’t gotten around to telling anyone yet. This is a very large school, who for five years had been telling anyone who would listen they were running a deficit budget, but had spent five years spending money on a service no-one knew they had and consequently never used.
Don’t take from this that I am anti-VLE, much the same as my thoughts around interactive whiteboards, in the right hands they can be incredibly effective tool which allows teachers and pupils to prosper, but when you’re not trained on something properly, or don’t have the technical know-how to do it yourself, it is a waste of time and money – both of which are in tremendous short supply in schools at the moment.