Friday, 4 November 2011

Contribution to SMART secondary e-newsletter

I recently contributed to SMART's secondary e-newsletter. Interesting slant required re. 'Thinking about becoming an Academy?' and 'New Tech interface'. Hope I got things right! 

Many school senior management teams are debating the move to Academy status and how to ensure that it is a success for all involved.  So, we sought out leaders who had been through the process and asked them to share their learning.

Steve Warburton has been involved in secondary school leadership for the past 15 years, both as Director of Education for Thomas Deacon Academy and more latterly acting as a consultant working with Hereford Academy.

You have been involved in the setting up of two Academies, Thomas Deacon and Hereford Academy.   How have the experiences differed from one to the other?
“During the Thomas Deacon development I was the Headteacher of one of the three predecessor schools.  We worked with the sponsors over three years to plan, not only the coming together of the staff and 2200 students, but also the design and development of a £40m building.  As well as being full of practical challenges, it was also something of a political minefield!  At Hereford, my role was very different and focused on ensuring the school got the ICT solution it needed for its new building.”

What lessons would you pass on about setting up an Academy?
“One lesson well-learnt was the importance of avoiding silos of activity and ensuring, as far as possible, that architects, builders, specialist contractors and educationalists were all aware and involved in each other’s workstreams.  Another was the value of an interpreter, so that all the respective areas of expertise could speak the same language and share a common understanding.  Lastly, although not all Academy staff can be involved in all decision-making, they all need to be communicated with regularly about what is happening and what decisions are being made, and why.”

Some schools are not getting a new build but are converting in status.  What would you advise Academies to really focus on, if they are looking for some definitive transformation in achievement?
“I believe the leaders of converting Academies are realising that it is important for their school communities to get some very early ‘wins’ as a result of the conversion process.  The freedoms and financial flexibility give them the opportunity to show real benefits for students and staff.  The conversion process itself, and the necessary consultation, also gives an opportunity to build a real consensus about the schools’ vision with parents and the local community.”

How did the Academies you worked with incorporate ICT in their vision to deliver their learning?
“Both Academies developed an ICT vision around the concept of equipping the teacher and the learning space to support the engagement of the learner.   Both needed robust networks to manage a computer to student ratio of better than 1:2.  This was to support the drive to deliver everywhere, everytime learning, but they chose different avenues to reach this goal.  One chose thin-clients, and one chose a fleet of netbook trolleys.   Both have chosen to standardise their ‘device range’ as far as possible to reduce the barriers to staff use.  For example, both specified that their voting technology, visualisers and interactive whiteboards would all come from the same provider, SMART.”

Schools are still generally geared up around the teaching of one to many in classrooms.  Have these Academies identified flexible learning spaces to use in everyday teaching and, if so, how have they incorporated ICT in these areas?
“At both Hereford and Thomas Deacon, flexible larger spaces were specified as everyday elements of the teaching provision.  Two conjoined lecture theatres were backed up by six large study areas at Thomas Deacon, whilst at Hereford, Extended Learning Zones feature in all the key learning areas.   At Thomas Deacon we had to ‘retro-fit’ presentational technology into these spaces and used plasma screens on trolleys with attached PCs and interactive slates.  In Hereford we were more fortunate in that mobile interactive whiteboards and collaborative tables were designed into the solution from the beginning.”

Are there specific technologies and products that can quickly make an impact on teaching practice to help teachers achieve improved learning targets?
“I would put a visualiser at the head of the queue.  As a device it naturally fits with powerful teaching and learning principles such as Assessment for Learning and is intuitive to use.   The most powerful, but with a bigger adoption hump, is the deployment of voting technology, although exciting developments around mobile device ‘apps’ could help here.”

Lastly, what would you say are the most exciting and rewarding results in becoming an Academy?
“The responsibilities of Academy leadership are particularly diverse and the accountability very direct.  But you also know that you have the opportunity to make a significant impact on the lives of thousands of young people.  It is your ability to inspire and innovate, strategise and lead that can make the difference.”

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