A new focus for learning

18th June 2004 at 01:00
Building a school and it's infrastructure from scratch helps you set the right environment for learning. Pete Roythorne reports

Now headteacher at Chafford Hundred Campus, Essex, Alison Banks is no stranger to ICT. While she was principal of Beacon Community College, Crowborough, the school became one of the first in the country to introduce email for all pupils, and groundbreaking open-access Learning Environment and Research Network Centres were introduced - for the local community as well as the students. Furthermore, in 2000, she wrote a report for the London Leadership Centre entitled Leadership.com - leading the school of the future.

Appropriately, soon after writing this report Alison stepped into the role of project managing the development of the Chafford Hundred Campus, an pound;11m programme for a neighbourhood learning centre for a new town.

The school opened in September 2001.

"As well as pioneering a new management system, the campus has adopted the RSA 21st century curriculum and introduced new approaches to individualised learning, including personal learning plans, one-to-one tutoring and wireless networking," explains Alison.

"One advantage of being a new school is that we could employ people who shared our vision. Teachers joining the school needed to be comfortable working in a technology-rich environment. This has enabled us to really push forward our learning environment."

At the centre of the school's ICT plans lies the Connetix Learning Environment which was designed from scratch as a whole-school management system that focuses on the learners and how all the aspects of the school emanate from them. It allows all participants in a child's education to be involved in the education process. Because the system is browser-based, users only need a unique and secure username and password to access Connetix from any internet-enabled computer.

Assistant headteacher Mark Bennison says: "Individual pupils are encouraged to be more involved in the process of learning. They are aware of their progress on a day-to-day basis by having access to their school report, target progress, attendance, behaviour, learning journal and formal subject-based comment."

The system allows access to all lesson plans in advance, and retrospectively, and there are plans to make the resources searchable, further aiding pupils with their learning. Assessment data can be entered against the targets so children's progress can be tracked against the curriculum.

Pupils are encouraged to keep learning journals on the system, with each child having access to a laptop. Journals are open to all teachers as well the pupils' parents. This provides a solid platform for pupils to not only share their learning experiences, but also to exchange comments with teachers, thereby handing greater power to the pupils for the direction of their own learning.

Parental access went online after Easter, and within the first two weeks around a third to a half of parents had already accessed the site, many from more than one IP addresses - suggesting parents were not only accessing the site from home but also from work.

"Parents now can be completely involved in their child's learning through 247 and can share thoughts on any aspect of their child's schooling with teachers via the three-way communications of the journal," says Mark. "This shifts learning beyond the classroom and allows the family to be a greater support."

And the pupils get as much out of it, too. "I like using computers for learning because they make it fun," says Year 8 pupil Sarah Ansell.

"Connetix has our lesson plans on it and also our behaviour. We can also get help with homework from our home teacher live on the internet, from home in the evening."

Year 9 pupil Michael McCormack, whose family has emigrated from the United States, says: "There is no school quite like the Campus. We have laptops for everything, but also good teachers. And Connetix is there to bring it all together."

As a new school it's difficult to measure the impact of the Campus'

ICT-rich learning environment. However, as Mark explains: "Having just done our Sats, we're looking at possibly 85 per cent level 5 in all English, maths and science - this is way above local and regional average."

Connetix's advantages

* Encourages pupil involvement in learning

* Encourages greater parental involvement

* School management can spot trends more effectively

* Curriculum planning module allows targets to be tracked

* Easy to produce data for Ofsted

* Helps revising pupils to access to all past and present lesson plans and resources

* Browser-based so will work on any machine

* Remote access reduces support costs

* Compatible with existing MIS systems

Connetix modules

* Core IntranetFull timetable with links to class lists

* Curriculum Planner Lesson plans with electronic learning resources

* Assessment Informs a graphical tracking process to ensure that the pupil is on target

* Behaviour A detailed behaviour log

* Attendance A full school attendance log

* Learning Journal An electronic journal to encourage pupils, with their teachers and parents, to reflect on their learning

* Report Writing Forms the basis for the school report

Currently in development:

* Individual Education Plans

* Question Sets Costs

* Control Centre (Core Intranet, Interfaces, Internet Access, Contact Manager, Notes, Data Repository, access to web services) pound;2,399

* Curriculum Manager (Year Plans, Schemes of Work, Lesson Plans) pound;2,024

* Behaviour pound;1,248

* Electronic registration attendance pound;1,518

* Learning Journal pound;843

* Assessment pound;1,687

* School Report Writer pound;674

* Individual Learning Plan Target setting TBA

* Question Sets (Needs Assessment module) TBA For more details visit www.connetix.co.uk

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