Online and on a high

14th January 2005 at 00:00
Martin Whittaker reports on an Essex primary school that's lapping up all the benefits that technology has to offer

Name: Gosbecks school

School type: 5-11 community primary

2001: English 71 per cent; maths 69 per cent and science 85 per cent

2004: English 88 per cent;maths 84 per cent and science 94 per cent

Percentage of pupils eligible for free meals: 10 per cent

Year 6 pupils at Gosbecks primary school are using laptops as if they have grown up with them. Every child has a password and user name to log on to their own customised secure desktop. From there they can email each other, do research and access school work from home.

All Y6 children now work on laptops in the classroom and the school now aims to extend them to other years.

"They'll be very confident by the time they come to leave," says Jeremy Hallum, the teacher in charge of information and communications technology.

"A lot of the time they're working in groups or pairs, and the talking they do and the quality of their discussions are very good."

In a neighbouring classroom, those sitting in front of the screens are a good deal older. The school's non-teaching staff - including everyone from the cooks to the caretaker - are taking a computer literacy and information technology (CLAIT) course.

In the past two years this school has forged its way ahead in making new technology accessible to pupils and staff. And much of this is down to a new leadership structure and the school's far-sighted governing body taking a lead role.

Gosbecks is a large primary school in Colchester, Essex, with 330 pupils.

Children come from a range of socio-economic backgrounds, but a small proportion are from professional families and 10 per cent of pupils are eligible for free school meals.

Its last Office for Standards in Education inspection in July 2002 declared Gosbecks a good school with many significant strengths. The past four years have seen a steady improvement in its key stage 2 test results.

In 2001, 71 per cent of pupils achieved level 4 or above in English, 69 per cent in maths and 85 per cent in science. Last year the results were 88 per cent in English, 84 per cent in maths and 94 per cent in science.

Headteacher David Burrage believes this improvement is directly linked to pupils' increasing use of ICT in lessons.

"I argue this strongly: those schools that have access to ICT on a regular basis will perform better than schools where that isn't the case," he says.

"And this year, because we have had a full year of the laptops, I would say that ICT has had an impact."

The big catalyst for change came when both the school leadership and governing body were radically restructured. When the school's deputy head left in 2000 she was not replaced. Instead, a new leadership team was created, with three team leaders for KS1, Y3-4, and Y5-6.

Each was given responsibilities and their own budgets for areas such as teaching and learning, special needs, and ICT.

"I think the system of having a deputy head in primary schools needs to be reviewed," said Mr Burrage. "We felt it was better to split the responsibilities across a wider number of members of staff - also it is good for their professional development too."

At the same time the governing body was shaken up and restructured to mirror the operation of the leadership team, so that team leaders could sit on the appropriate committees.

The body also began to make more use of governors' experience and expertise and to ensure that every governor had some input into decisions.

The turning point for the school's expansion of ICT came in June 2003 when Mr Burrage went on an National College for School Leadership course, strategic leadership in ICT (SLICT). Until then the school had had laptops for teachers and an ICT suite, but he decided it had to take the next step.

He came back and met the governors' strategic and finance committee to discuss getting laptops for pupils and interactive whiteboards in the classrooms.

He says: "That was the catalyst. The governors were totally behind me - they know ICT is a good way to empower children's learning."

They piloted 15 laptops with a Y6 class last year, and last February brought in another 15 for a second Y6 class. Governors also gave the go-ahead to equip every classroom with interactive whiteboards, projectors and DVD audio systems. Gosbecks audited its teachers' ICT skills and began training all staff.

Chair of governors, Shirley Herring, recalls the revelation of going in to watch a maths lesson delivered with an interactive whiteboard. "They were doing activities on the board, and it was so much quicker, and the answers came back straight away.

"They got so much more from it," she says.

"I also saw the laptops in action in Y6, and the enthusiasm of the children is amazing. They discuss work and they love researching."

Governors are kept well-informed on technology in the school - one of the body's members, Annette Murphy, is the school's ICT technician. She is currently investigating the cost of creating a computer network.

The governors also make more use of technology, with minutes and agendas sent by email. And Mr Burrage says that under the new leadership structure, the governors fulfil their critical friend role more efficiently. The school has spent more than pound;120,000 on ICT in the past four years.

"They do sometimes ask difficult questions," he says. "But they want absolute clarity that the money is being used to the best purpose."

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