Use of tablet computers in schools continues to grow

The growth in school purchases of tablet computers is slowing down partly because parents are being expected to pay for the devices themselves, new research suggests.

Currently, almost three-quarters of schools now use tablet computers such as the iPad in lessons, and there are an estimated 721,000 tablets such computers in schools.

But a new survey of 632 schools from the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) has found that although the number of tablets provided by schools is still rising, the growth is not as quick as was once predicted – especially in secondary schools.

The association’s report estimates that in five years’ time, 46 per cent of computers owned by primaries will be tablets – down from a previous estimate of 48 per cent.

Of computers owned by secondaries, it predicts that 40 per cent will be tablets by 2020 – down from a previous estimate of 49 per cent.

The report states: “This is a lower figure than previously forecast, which is due to expected increases in parent-purchased devices and the advancement of hybrid devices and other low-cost computer options, such as Chromebooks.”

Ofcom has found that one in three children aged between five and 15 have their own tablet, rising to 43 per cent for secondary-aged children. The rates of tablet ownership did not seem to be affected by socio-economic grouping.

Miles Berry, a lecturer in computing at the University of Roehampton, said: “At a time when school budgets are very limited, it would make sense to ask students to use their own devices rather than buying very similar ones to provide to them at school.

“There is the issue of social equity, but it seems that these devices are not just for the most privileged, children in lower economic groups will still have smartphones or tablets. That said, where children don’t have their own, this seems to be a sensible way to spend pupil premium money.”

Gregory Hill, headteacher of Howard Junior School in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, provides iPads to all of his pupils as they start in Year 3.

“I think iPads are a game-changer,” he said. “Tablets switch reluctant learners on and we tailor each iPad around a pupil’s needs, so a child who has English as an additional language would have apps to support that.”

“We think it is better to provide them, they don’t go home. They stay in school and then we know they are set up for an educational environment and they are secure.”

The new report predicts there will be a total of 944,000 tablets bought by schools for pupils to use by the end of 2016 and that by the end of 2020 schools will own 1.52 million of the devices.

Caroline Wright, director of BESA, said: “Tablet purchasing is still most definitely on the up but the exceptionally rapid rates of expansions we saw over the last few years is slowing down a little.”

By the end of 2016, the survey predicts that there will be 22 tablets per primary and 115 tablets per secondary, on average. But 8 per cent of primaries and 15 per cent of secondaries aim to provide one tablet for every pupil.

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