Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

The last word

Last word

Technology can make the best teacher look incompetent when it doesn't work, but - hands up - do we really want to go back to the days of Banda machines and Roneo stencils?

Not long ago in school we had a power cut. It lasted about one second. For some reason because of this, to do with servers and such like, the school network went down. It stayed down for four days.

Pupil tracking came to a standstill. All the lessons using smart boards and ICT were impossible. Naturally some students and some staff reacted positively and simply said the lesson couldn't be done; others picked up a felt tip or dug out some worksheets; still others (of course) didn't actually notice.

It set everyone thinking about how dependent we are on technology.

Back when I started teaching in the early 80s, the classroom I worked in had one electric socket put there for the floor polisher. When the school was designed in 1968, no other need was perceived.

But haven't we always been dependent on some technology? When I was a pupil there was chalk and talk and we had little individual blackboards that echoed the earlier slates and are now born again in mini whiteboards.

And then came the photocopier. The earliest version - the school had just one in the office - used strange greasy paper and was very expensive. But multiple copies of worksheets were desired and other, cheaper devices were developed.

One was the Banda. For those too young to remember, you typed or wrote on to a sort of carbon paper, wrapped this around a drum and whirled the handle. It produced copies by some sort of solvent causing printing transfer - they gradually got fainter as the imprint wore out - and you got fainter if you inhaled too deeply.

Generally handwritten documents went on the Banda. For typed work, you used the Roneo stencil.

Again, for you youngsters, a typewriter was used to cut letter shaped spaces. When the stencil was put into the printing machine it allowed ink through the spaces and so printed the words, although the letter 'o' had a cute tendency to come out as a coloured blob.

Both these machines were invaluable but they also faithfully recorded for perpetuity any mistakes. So Banda sheets often had - well mine did - blobs of colour representing a crossing out.

The Roneo in theory had a system of correction whereby you smeared some red-coloured sticky liquid over the error, allowed it to dry and then re-cut the paper. My head of department - a dignified lady in so many ways - referred to this as the 'boob juice'.

Then came the breakthrough: the Amstrad PCW, a dedicated word processor. Only those inclined to write a department handbook in the mid 80s will ever know the salvation this machine represented.

When a BBC computer with printer could set you back more than the cost of your car, the Amstrad at about £250 with its own little printer was a wonder. Only those who have struggled with Tip-pex, Snowpake and carbon paper can truly appreciate the wonders of the word processor.

This coincided with affordable photocopiers and so we ended up with old typewriters, Banda machines and piles of redundant Roneo stencils cluttering up the department store until the 90s.

For a while the BBC held on - its word processor was not even a wysiwyg - but then the PC moved in and so did Microsoft. With Publisher, graphics, clip art and colour printers, the amateur feel was gone. Today any worksheet is possible and students' work itself looks better than publishers' dreams of 20 years ago.

Then there's TV. Once there was one TV in the school. Perhaps it was on a trolley and perhaps the technician would set it up for you and perhaps a programme was on just when you had a lesson.

As a student teacher I witnessed Trevor Nunn's Macbeth with Ian Mckellen and Judy Dench in half hour chunks at 10.30 every Tuesday morning.

Sometime later the tension fell away when TVs started to be built in and everyone could afford a video. The curriculum for the week before Christmas became saturated with The Muppets' Christmas Carol. Now the DVD of Babe with the option for the words in Spanish can seriously be set for a cover lesson.

The blackboard became white (what shall we do with this gross of chalk?). Rooms filled up with computers and then the internet, broadband, smart boards arrived one after another.

My old classroom now has 30 power points, 24 network connections (soon to be wireless), 24 flat screens and wireless mouses, smart board, data projector, speakers, scanner, two printers and air conditioning.

Recently, working in a room with just an old whiteboard I lamented the fact that we couldn't preserve all the notes we'd made on the board except by laboriously copying them. Don't worry, said a student, I'll photograph it with my phone.

What will they think of next?

Rupert Tillyard is an assistant head in Yorkshire.


The Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you would like to share your humorous observations of school life, please email Sara Gadzik at leader@ascl.org.uk We do offer a modest honorarium.

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