Sustainable learning

31st March 2006, 1:00am
Dorothy Walker


Sustainable learning
Kings college in Surrey has come a long way since Becta's Self-Review Framework was implemented. Dorothy Walker finds out more

ICT has made a huge impact at our school," says Tony Ryan, "and Becta's Self-Review Framework has encouraged us to take action now to sustain that impact in the future." Tony is assistant principal at Kings College for the Arts and Technology in Guildford, Surrey. At the start of the new millennium, the college re-opened its doors as a fresh start school. New technology was employed as a key way of promoting achievement and confidence, and the strategy has paid dividends. Results have risen dramatically.

In 2000, only 10 per cent of students achieved five GCSEs at grade C or above. The figure doubled in 2001 and remained in the 20s until last year when the first group of students to have spent their entire secondary career at the new school took their exams and achieved a figure of 51 per cent. "It is difficult to attribute everything to ICT, but it has played an important role. In our surveys, students say that ICT is motivating and makes lessons more interesting," says Tony. "Around 82 per cent pick up their work from our network and continue with it at home. Many say they wouldn't work on it if we'd handed them paper.

"There was nothing identified by the SRF that we hadn't considered at some stage. But the framework did convince us to alter our ICT improvement plan to include lots of things we felt we should be working on now. The framework helped us identify that it was a lot harder to access ICT in some departments than in others. Like most schools, we are short of space so we can't simply create more computer rooms. So we decided to go for a wireless network, which was installed during half-term. That will allow us to buy banks of laptops for areas such as English and humanities, so that students don't have to leave the classroom in search of a machine. There was just enough money left in the year's budget for the network, and because it gives us flexibility, we can build on the investment."

The network will also support the school's plan to establish an e-Learning foundation, a charitable operation designed to encourage parents to contribute to the cost of laptops which their children can use in school and at home. "Our ICT budget rises every year, but it is not infinite. We can't fund everything ourselves. The SRF made us think about how we can continue to achieve everything we want to do. If we can provide laptops on a lease basis and offer facilities where they can be locked and recharged, then parents could share some of the cost of providing machines without paying a fortune.

"We want to install more projectors and software to make lessons more captivating. We want to add more interactive whiteboards in departments such as maths where they are having a big impact. We want to provide more subject-specific software to enable students to do homework that is more challenging and more relevant to classwork. We can do all that if we put the laptop scheme in place."

The school surveyed its staff about their needs and, to Tony's surprise, training came top. "That is one area where the SRF has sharpened us up as to how we continue to make an impact," he says. "Our teachers are young and vibrant and are major users of ICT. Because they are so good at it, we weren't putting enough energy into offering them continual training. They want to be able to use the software at a more advanced level."

The school has just become a Microsoft academy, providing training and industry accreditation on Microsoft software. There are now plans to offer the courses to teachers as well as students.

As part of the self-review process, every student completed an extensive online questionnaire - the answers were submitted anonymously - and the results were encouraging, says Tony: "We marked ourselves highly on impact and we had to see whether the students agreed. Overwhelmingly, they did, and that was the best part of all."


* I spent a weekend working through the framework and was strict on the way I marked the school. The senior management team then went through it, arguing my marks up or down, followed by the ICT strategy group, which includes a lead teacher from each department.

* We learnt a lot from the student questionnaire. For example, we asked how much time pupils spent on their home computers playing games, and how much on homework. It turns out they spend more time on homework.

* We showed our SRF work to the governors and asked for feedback. When they saw the impact ICT was making, they felt better about how much money is spent on it.

* Gaining the ICT Mark has given us a big boost. We recently ran interviews for additional ICT teachers and all the candidates were aware we had the mark and that's why they wanted to teach here.

* There were a number of areas where we said: 'We're good at that.' Then we thought: 'How do we know? How do we prove it?' The framework prompted us to find this evidence.

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