The case for one-to-one device access in schools

Written by: Dr Fiona Aubrey-Smith & Sarah Evans | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

After a recent Headteacher Update webinar focused on what schools can do to close the digital divide, Dr Fiona Aubrey-Smith and Sarah Evans discuss different ways of achieving one-to-one device access and how this approach can unlock powerful learning

As we discussed during the recent Headteacher Update and SecEd webinar on the digital divide, the pandemic has led to the children in our classrooms having an unprecedented level of experience in using technologies as part of their learning (APPG, 2021).

As we all move forwards from the pandemic and find our own “new normal” ways of working, one of the significant conversations has been about how to incorporate these experiences meaningfully into planning for the future.

As recently revealed by the Department for Education’s Education Technology Survey, a majority of schools are now working towards a one-to-one device approach (DfE, 2022).

Different schools and groups are at varying stages of enabling this. The most common approaches are:

  • Class-based device access: Laptop trolleys in classes or year groups so that teachers can “permit” devices as part of classroom activities.
  • Devices on demand: Devices in class that children can choose to access when it supports or enhances their learning.
  • Targeted provision of devices: School provides targeted children with a school-owned device (e.g. for particular year groups or learning needs).
  • Loaned devices: School loans a device to each child for the duration of the school year or school career that they can use both in class and at home.
  • Bring your own device: Children bring their own devices into school to enable fluid learning both at home and school
  • Bring your own and loaned device hybrid: Children bring their own devices into school and those unable to do so are loaned school devices – so that every child has access to their “own” device in class and at home.

A combination of children bringing their own devices from home and school loaning devices for those unable to do so is arguably the most pragmatic and powerful approach. This is largely because it is the most cost and time-efficient way of ensuring every child has access to a device that they can call their own.

From a pedagogical perspective, it is this sense of ownership that will bridge device usage from being a novelty towards being transformational in terms of educational outcomes.

Drawing upon the research evidence, Twining and Maher (2017) found that when students were given the opportunity to choose when and where to use their device, they became more discerning about the technology use and its impact on their learning. In other words, they focused on what would help their learning (increasing metacognitive skills) rather than the novelty of using devices.

Furthermore, Liu et al (2014) found that student access to one-to-one devices contributed to blurring boundaries between “formal and informal learning space” and extending learning from school into the home.

Children at Sherborne House School in Hampshire very much reflect this:

  • “I can have my own layouts on my screen. I can do my work more quickly because I know my own keyboard and shortcuts.”
  • “I’ve used my own device for maths and English … I can leave tabs open from work I’ve done in class … and use it for homework too.”
  • “The good thing about using your own device is that access is quicker, and you have your own home screen so you know where everything is.”
  • “I like having the opportunity to choose to use my own computer to help me in my learning. It means I can choose how to present my work.”

Once children have the fluidity of access to a device that they can think of as their own, this opens up all kinds of creative opportunities to enhance teaching and learning purposefully. The necessary adaptation of lessons for online delivery during the pandemic has empowered teachers with a plethora of new skills – a very steep learning curve for many, but one which has had wide-reaching consequences.

The way that learning takes place has changed rapidly, with staff and students readily tackling the complexities of working online, managing content in the cloud, collaborating on shared projects, engaging with interactive tools, and embracing new presentation methods.

These kinds of approaches encourage the creation of a more engaging learning environment, with adaptations to suit different learning needs and opportunities to form connections and apply transferable skills.

Embracing technology as a tool for students to use alongside other, more traditional, educational resources, reflects the way that they use technology at home and is more representative of how they are likely to use technology in their future careers.

Today’s young people are unafraid of technology, willing to explore its uses and limits in all aspects of their lives. Without embracing this in the school environment, we would be hampering a way of learning that is more natural to them than it is perhaps to their parents and teachers.

Allowing our students to drive their own learning through inquiry and research, with use of the most up-to-date web content, fosters independent thinking skills and helps create more active and focused learning.

It is up to us as teachers to decide how we engage with and embrace these opportunities. Large scale studies by Twining et al (2017) found that the use of technologies amplifies the existing pedagogical stance of children’s teachers.

In other words, technology highlights the way that we teach, and the types of learning experiences that we provide for our children. Selwyn et al (2019) refers to the role of teachers as being “pedagogical gatekeepers” to student learning experiences – fore-fronting our decisions about what we allow or encourage children to do using their devices as part of their learning.

Sherborne House School believes in using technology to make activities meaningful, engaging and personal for our children. For example, this term the children have used their own devices to:

  • Engage interactively with live video lessons.
  • Re-watch teacher instruction at their own pace.
  • Research information as part of their individual learning projects.
  • Move through sequences of activities based on their individual attainment and confidence.
  • Choose platforms on which to publish their own writing in a variety of different ways.
  • Create collaborative documents to co-construct work with other students, and to drive their own progress through the use of adaptive online questions.

As the digital divide webinar (SecEd & Headteacher Update, 2022) recently discussed, if the digital divide is left unaddressed, the gap between the under-connected and the hyper-digitalised will widen, aggravating existing inequalities.

So, the decisions that we make are about more than engaging children in their learning, they are fundamentally about social justice and equality – ensuring meaningful and purposeful learning for all students.

Cost-effective suggestions to facilitate one-to-one

  • Purchasing low-cost devices (e.g. Chromebooks, starting from £109)
  • Purchasing reconditioned laptops from reputable organisations (e.g. – starting from £59).
  • Repurposing old devices (e.g. installing Chrome OS on old MacBooks/Windows laptops).
  • Removing restrictions on where existing devices are being kept or stored so that they are more freely accessible to students as and when they need them.
  • Accepting donations of tablets and laptops.

  • Dr Fiona Aubrey-Smith is director of One Life Learning, an associate lecturer at the Open University and a founding fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching. Read her previous articles for SecEd via and follow her @FionaAS
  • Sarah Evans is assistant headteacher at Sherborne House School in Hampshire.

Further information & resources

  • APPG: Lessons from lockdown, All-Party Parliamentary Group on EdTech, 2021:
  • DfE: Education technology: Exploring digital maturity in schools, March 2022:
  • Headteacher Update & SecEd Webinar: Closing the digital divide – what can schools do? April 2022:
  • Liu et al: A look at research on mobile learning in K12 education from 2007 to the present, Journal of Research on Technology in Education (46), 2014.
  • Selwyn et al: What’s next for ed-tech? Critical hopes and concerns for the 2020s, Learning, Media and Technology (45,1), 2019:
  • Twining et al: NP3 – New Purposes, New Practices, New Pedagogy: Meta-analysis, Society for Educational Studies, 2017:
  • Twining & Maher: Bring your own device: A snapshot of two Australian primary schools. Educational Research (59, 1), 2017:

This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up Headteacher update Bulletin
About Us

Headteacher Update is a magazine, website, podcast and regular ebulletin dedicated to the primary school leadership team. We tackle a wide range of leadership issues, offering best practice, case studies and in-depth information, advice and guidance. Headteacher Update magazine is distributed free to approximately 20,000 primary school headteachers.

Learn more about Headteacher update


Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.