Enthusiasm is the key at Hunwick primary, where staff have been given their own piece of leadership to develop, with amazing effect. Jack Kenny reports
Sue Smith's gentle north-east accent lulls you into listening carefully to what she has to say. Winner of the Leadership category in this year's Becta ICT in Practice Awards, the quality of Sue's leadership at Hunwick primary, in Crook, County Durham, has marked the school out as one to watch.
Sue has a clear view of what she wants to do and has developed her ideas by research and in conjunction with her deputy, Damian Hassan. Talking about a memorable visit they paid to Robin Hood primary school in Birmingham, he noted: "We had been fed a rather narrow vision of ICT: using ICT to improve scores in maths and literacy. At Robin Hood, we saw children becoming independent, being able to work in small groups. Children were given a project at the beginning of term that they continued to work on for weeks.
"There was astonishing visual arts stuff. The visual literacy programme there meant that children were producing amazing creative works. That helped us to develop our vision that ICT will broaden what we are doing, broaden our horizons, broaden links and creativity. We are not into the standards side of things with ICT. You are on a hiding to nothing trying to raise standards with ICT when they are already high."
At Hunwick, ICT has been used to broaden the way children learn and think about themselves and the world. The belief is that if you want to raise standards in English and maths there are better ways of doing it. If you want to produce learners for the future, then you need flexibility, imagination, creativity and ICT.
Sue's style is to give everyone on the staff a piece of leadership. Each member is asked to develop expertise in some area that they enjoy. The injunction then is: "Go away, do it and then report back."
Now staff run with their enthusasisms. They soon realised that they were not just an expert in their own school but were being sought out by other schools. The effects of all this on morale and self-confidence is immense.
The staff are involved with action research with Manchester university and almost everyone on the staff has been involved.
Becta's Self-Review Framework signalled to the school that there were further areas for development. Sue considers that as head, the online tool will be more useful for her than for the rest of the staff. "I will use it to drive things forward. It is a tool for management, but you do need to involve your staff so they can contribute. It is useful for keeping you on the right track.
"The most useful pointers are not the ones where you can give yourself a pat on your back but the ones that show you are not doing so well. The one about extended schools we have started, but we have a long way to go. We also need to look at the continuity of learning: that is, children's access from home.
"We have a PDA (personal digital assistant) project coming up with Year 5 and we used to send laptops home, but that has changed because most children have access on their own machines. The framework has shown us what we have to do."
Damian Hassan, who managed the school's involvement in the self-review says: "There are very good things in the pilot version of the framework that we have used. The breadth is good because it covers a wide area of school life. Within that, it widens school's perceptions of what ICT can be used for. We did not feel that they have the vocabulary quite right and the descriptions of the levels are not quite precise. However, it does tell you where you can be going next.
"In addition, it poses interesting challenges. It is a good tool for getting ICT into the learning, helping you to see how ICT is linked across your curriculum. Even though you can see that the people who have produced it have their own agendas, it makes you think about what you are doing even if you don't agree with what it says.
"The online version will produce plans for you, create links to the schools that are in a similar position to you, and will enable you to discuss things on the forum, sharing areas of expertise. They are trying to build a community. It is far better than similar things we have seen in the past which were largely bureaucratic box-ticking, which took ages to do with no apparent benefit.
"The philosophy behind the framework is much more like the way that people and schools grow and move."
* Allow teachers to become researchers and experts and leaders in their areas. Teachers grow when they are given responsibility. Action research is an effective way for teachers to work. The prestige and kudos when teachers are listened to by other teachers is powerful. It benefits the whole school.
* Learn from other schools. Accept that even though you are doing good work in ICT, there is probably someone doing something better. Sometimes when you go to a school you will see things working that are far more impressive because they are taking place in context. They are real developments and you can see how they have been done and also how you could adapt it. The inspiration of seeing a school doing something that you have only thought of is one of the most powerful agents for change.
* In the self-review, the areas that are highlighted for future attention are more important than the ones that make you feel smug.
* Use ICT to broaden the curriculum.
* Sustainability is a real issue for leaders and this has to be addressed by the senior management team as well as the governors.