In your own time

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
The Ablair Academy tailors its timetable of virtual and classroom lessons around pupils' needs - even catering for late risers. John Galloway looks at how it works

Tiffany is late logging on for school. She should have accessed today's creative media work before 10am, as was agreed in her personal education plan, but by 10.05 there is no sign of her. A text message has been automatically generated by the system and sent to her foster carer, Darren Jenks, and copied to form tutor Jeff Randle, who will follow it up later when she comes in for her maths class.

When her timetable was organised, at the planning meeting when Tiffany moved in with Darren, the string of late marks on the records electronically transferred from her previous school was a concern. However, because the Ablair Academy is a full-service school, with courses shared with the adult education section going on into the evening, and an established online learning platform, a great deal of flexibility was possible.

Jeff Randle had analysed the Raise pupil monitoring data (see sidebar) for Tiffany and realised that, apart from a dip earlier in the year, which coincided with the uncertainty around her placement, she was doing fine.

The lateness really seemed to be because, as Tiffany said: "I'm not a morning person."

As a result, her timetable was planned to include a mixture of classes, some in the early evenings, others at the local further education college for a vocational course in "retail interfaces for mobile technologies", and even some online work accessed from home. She particularly likes these as she can sit on her bed and use her laptop, music playing, coffee to hand, and within easy shouting distance of either Darren, or his wife, Megan, should she have a problem.

Which is what happened this particular morning when her log-on failed.

Darren, it turned out, had disabled the wireless hub because the boy across the road had again hacked the password and was surfing at his expense. An email to Jeff reassured the school and, pretty soon, Tiffany was getting on with fine-tuning the narrative for her computer game, the assessment deadline for which was getting close.

Tiffany had been on Jeff Randle's mind anyway that morning, as he was preparing to update her records in the Common Assessment Framework (see sidebar). Although he isn't the designated teacher for children in public care at the school, it had been agreed that he would be the lead professional for her, so he has to co-ordinate all the people involved in her care, and maintain an overview. As the form is online, he, Lynne Webster, her social worker, and Jas Kaur, a psychotherapist, will each review and update it before lunchtime.

Working together over the internet has been made easier by the local information sharing agreement that lets different agencies share and exchange data about children and young people to varying degrees. All three can access and add to Tiffany's records, although they may not be able to do this for other children. For example, Jeff normally wouldn't see detailed records for looked-after children, but, like most of his colleagues, would simply see a flag that showed other people were working with Tiffany so he could contact them directly if needed.

According to the completed overview, it seems that Tiffany's placement with the Jenks family is going well, but she doesn't seem to be making friends, even after eight weeks. The timetable could be a problem, as she is in several different groups, with the exception of afternoon registration three days a week. Jeff thinks they could look outside school, so he texts Tiffany to ask her to meet him at 4:30 that afternoon, before her GCSE maths class. As Megan Jenks has also signed up for the course he suggests Tiffany invites her along, too.

When they arrive Jeff Randle has pulled up the online list of local groups that offer out-of-school activities. Tiffany likes the idea of having some fun away from school, and opts for an outdoor pursuits course that the local authority has commissioned the Scouts to provide. It has received good feedback on the website and it is mixed, so there's the chance of her meeting someone "fit", as she puts it.

That evening, Tiffany remembers to update her blog. She is part of a virtual community on a secure site for looked-after children, so she and her carers know it is safe. She isn't sure what to put so she simply writes, "No change."


* Technology will provide part of the network to support children. For the vulnerable it will catch them early, for others it will allow schools to offer individual support.

By the end of 2008, a national information sharing index, administered by each local authority, will be in place. It will contain basic demographic information, plus school and GP records.

It will also allow professionals to add flags to records to show if they have concerns, are involved with, or have done an assessment for any individual.

Access will be restricted according to users' roles. But some authorities have already implemented information sharing protocols which allow greater co-operation between signatory agencies. This makes it easier to share information using tools such as the Common Assessment Framework, a universal initial assessment form, which can help determine the support a child needs.

In schools, this network can provide personalised educational content through learning platforms, so each child can work at their own level. Such systems can also track achievements, and can then be used as part of the Raise system, which will come on line next summer. Raise is a combination of Panda, by which every school is compared with its peers across the country, and the Pupil Achievement Tracker, which provides long-term analysis of the educational performance of individuals, groups and cohorts, even down to the level of particular SATs questions. This will help schools and OFSTED make sure that every child really does matter.

Every Child Matters, A Practical Guide for Teachers, by Rita Cheminais (David Fulton, 2006)

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