Leadership lesson:  Remove phoney divide between techies and teachers

Simon Uttley was appointed the headteacher to St Paul’s in 2005 with the mission to turn around the failing school. His background in policing and IT, as well as teaching, convinced him that building a cohesive community with pupils and parents through information technology was the way forward. A sound choice of ICT, and, even more important, the career development of technical staff meant a prompt and proactive approach to cyberbullying when an incident occurred.

The challenge: Using ICT to transform school culture and achievement
St Pauls had been a failing school. When I was appointed as head, in 2005, I believed that a key way of turning around the school was to introduce transparency and peer-to-peer accountability. My previous roles as police officer and an ICT consultant convinced me that information technology would be a powerful means of bringing the school community and parents together. Our chosen implementation of ICT was accompanied by training and promotion of technical staff and this also proved to be a valuable way of countering bullying.

The Incident: Cyberbullying breakout
A member of staff received an abusive email using offensive language and derogatory comments over the school network.

How situation was dealt with: Proactively and comprehensively
Our ICT system enabled us to capture when the email was sent and from which PC. A study of CCTV footage for that time showed that the email address did not match the actual perpetrator. A final level of network intelligence provided an important piece of the approach: e-security software frmo Securus that captures and records pejorative language such as racially offensive comments, meant the situation was identified before a teacher had even opened the email. The child was summoned about the incident and initially denied it but then confessed when faced with the evidence. The parents were brought in to have a meeting and to discuss the sanction, which was an exclusion of several days.

Lesson re-learnt: School techies should not work in silos
A key reason we were on the ball and integrated in our detection and handling of the incident is that our network manager is also our director of learning technology specialism He came to us as our network manager as a 21-year-old and was keen to learn more about the education environment. We built this training into his career path and he is now our both our network manager and, as a member of leadership team, completely imbued with the ethos and knowledge of child care and learning. As a result of this we do not make any distinction between what happens in the real-world and what happens in cyber-space – that is unhelpful. We expect respectful, one-to-one relationships between all school members regardless of the medium in which it is conducted.

Simon Uttley is headteacher of St Pauls Catholic College, Surrey, an 11-18 mixed comprehensive school on the border of Surrey and West London. The school has 1,070 students on roll and was, in 2008, the most improved school in Surrey and one of the ‘top 14 most improved schools’ in the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust ‘Raising Achievement and Transforming Learning’ group. Simon is also a consultant headteacher for the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust.