The school became an academy in 2008 and quickly decided it would focus on using technology to transform learning. But it wanted to ensure it did so in a way that would be accessible to all its pupils. The school serves a deprived community where students had under-achieved for years. In its first year of operation, 37 per cent of GCSE students got five A*-C grades, including English and maths.
After a trial run in December 2009, all 900 students at the school were issued with iPod Touches to start the 201011 school year. Funding for the hand-held devices came out of the mainstream annual budget, and has proved less expensive than buying textbooks and undertaking high volumes of photocopying.
Students have used the iPods to capture examples of their work, assess their learning, download revision podcasts and look up maps and book texts.
Translation apps have proved particularly useful in a school where 46 languages are spoken, and the devices have created a new fluidity of communication between staff and students, making it easier to keep track of class notes, homework and further reading.
Over the year, the educational use of the iPod Touches has garnered the school an international reputation and it has welcomed over 200 visitors to see the project in action.
The teachers' iPads have also helped staff in the delivery of creative lessons in which they send presentations wirelessly to projectors, which can be quickly amended from anywhere in the classroom.
English teacher Bashira Patel says: "Neither the students nor I could live without our iPod Touches and iPads now. They're much less likely to forget it than their planner or exercise book; and when they do (forget it) they realise how detrimental it has been to their learning.
"It has also helped in developing literacy," she adds. "And students that wouldn't usually pick up a book use the literacy apps because they don't think of them as being work, but more like fun. It's all a game to them."
Project leader's tips
- Recognise that initially there will be inhibition about change, but with support and encouragement the transition will progress smoothly.
- To maximise the project's effectiveness, whole-school training must take place. "The generation gap means some staff will adapt more quickly than others," says Ms Patel. "Every Friday afternoon, students go home and the staff meet for CPD, which often encompasses technology training, helping to keep us up to date."
- To link an iPad to a projector, try the Splashtop app.
- For more information, contact Mr Chohan at firstname.lastname@example.org
Does it work?
Dr William Rankin, director of innovation and associate professor of English at Abilene Christian University in Texas, says the academy's project is "one of the most compelling stories about the way that technology can transform education".
Last year, 99 per cent of students achieved five GCSEs at A*-C, up from 67 per cent the previous year. Fifty-two per cent got A*-C, including English and maths, up from 37 per cent. The academy's innovations have been recognised by Apple, and it now serves as a regional training centre for this form of teaching, and receives weekly visitors.
Started: Trialled December 2009, launched September 2010
Leader: Abdul Chohan, director of ICT
Name: Essa Academy
Number of pupils: 811
Age range: 11-16
Intake: High proportion of pupils on free school meals, and from ethnic-minority backgrounds. A quarter of students have special educational needs or disabilities
Ofsted overall rating: Good (2011).