Technology to deliver a modern curriculum

Written by: Laura McPhee | Published:
Image: iStock

Broadclyst Community Primary School recently hosted Decoding the Future, an event focused on the role of technology to deliver a modern curriculum to prepare pupils for their future lives. Laura McPhee was there

Recently we have seen growing speculation and scepticism in the national press on the use of technology in the classroom.

The chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has expressed concern over the use of mobile phones, while behaviour expert Tom Bennett has been commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) to lead a review into tackling poor behaviour in the classroom, focusing on the potentially disruptive influence of SmartPhones on learning in school.

But what does the research say? And how are schools innovatively using technology to promote learning?

In the OECD’s latest report on education, its director for education and skills, Andreas Schleicher, suggests that: “It is vital that teachers become active agents for change, not just in implementing technological innovations, but in designing them too.”

Broadclyst Community Primary School in Exeter is among those leading the way in this challenge. Broadclyst, rated outstanding by Ofsted, was founded in 1810 to serve children within the local community. One of the first five primary schools in the country to become an academy (in September 2010), it has developed a national and international reputation for its innovative use of IT and digital media, offering its 450 pupils one-to-one access to computers and a range of technologies.

Acknowledged by the schools minister as being in the top 250 schools in the UK for pupil achievement and progress, Broadclyst was selected by the National College for Teaching and Leadership to become a national Teaching School in 2014.

As a National Leader of Education, headteacher Jonathan Bishop is dedicated to sharing best practice and the Cornerstone Teaching School Alliance held its first conference at Broadclyst in September. Entitled, Decoding the Future, the event examined the application of technology in the classroom and what this means for today’s learners.
Anthony Salcito, vice-president of Microsoft Education, was the first keynote speaker of the day, challenging the audience to “Expect more, do more, be more”.

He explained: “When learners find themselves in troubling environments they don’t expect limitless horizons. As practitioners we have a responsibility to globally raise expectations.

“However this global expectation and power to change the future ... starts from within. It starts with our own expectations and exists in spite of any cynicism about school systems or infrastructure.

“Do more ... create curiosity and connections beyond the immediate school community. Root your actions in the notion that we can help pupils to be more.”

Mr Salcito urged leaders to foster employability through developing a skills-based curriculum rather than an exclusively content-based curriculum, and suggested technology as a tool to facilitate this exciting curriculum.

The next keynote speaker was Mr Bishop himself, who told the conference: “Sustainability in school leadership has been achieved, not through chasing SAT results, but through seizing the opportunity to explore the curriculum freedoms available.”

As a result, Broadclyst has adopted a number of new practices and reviewed procedures including:

  • Embraced curriculum freedoms.
  • Embedded use of distance learning technology.
  • Revised assessment practice.
  • Developed self-reflective and collaborative practice.
  • Created partnerships and became outward-facing.

Mr Bishop and his team endeavoured to create not just a virtual school, but a digital learning environment. He continued: “At the heart of this mission was the desire to develop creative thinkers and avid problem-solvers. If children can’t see purpose in what they are doing it leads to underachievement.”

Ambitious about the way in which real distance learning can transform critical-thinking, Mr Bishop is keen to stress that the role of the teacher is one of mediator and facilitator. Perhaps one of the most striking examples of this is the Global Enterprise Project.

Broadclyst has run a business enterprise project with its year 6 pupils for eight years. Motivational for the children and exciting for teachers to deliver, the enterprise project incorporates business skills including product design, market research, manufacturing and marketing.

The project successfully encompasses many different elements of the curriculum while offering a real-life context and purpose to the children’s learning.

Mr Bishop took the Broadclyst enterprise project concept to a global level during the recent Microsoft in Education Global Forum. In a Dragon’s Den style pitch against ideas from schools around the world, he put forward the idea of taking the existing project and transforming it into a Global Enterprise Challenge. This was the winning pitch and Broadclyst was awarded $25,000 to turn the plan into a reality.

During the challenge, 32 schools across 20 countries connected to run international companies, each with 10 regional office/teams. Each company was awarded £30 ($50) per school. The teams then competed with each other to become the most successful company globally.

This extraordinary challenge connects schools, uniting children from across the world into one global education project. Mr Bishop explains that as a result of taking part, pupils have increased awareness of cultural diversities and have gained an understanding of world currencies, as well as honing their entrepreneurial skills and economic awareness.

He added: “Through this creative way of working that was supported with technology, the children’s communication and collaboration skills and problem-solving skills improved.”

So, how does this application of technology support attainment and progress at Broadclyst? This year, the school won two SSAT Educational Outcomes Awards for the outstanding progress and attainment made by its pupils. The awards recognises pupil achievement in the top 10 per cent of primary schools nationally for value-added, and in the top 10 per cent for attainment.

Equally passionate about technology for teachers, and the professional development opportunities that this offers, Mr Bishop explains how video technology allows for deeper self-reflection. Advocates of the technology agree that the benefits of this way of working include:

  • Self-observation – with video you can observe your own lessons for a deeper level of self-reflection and you can refer back to these at any time.
  • Time for peer observation – filming your lessons will help you to make time for peer observation, helping you and your colleagues to share practice more regularly.
  • Increases authenticity – the dynamic of the class won’t be altered by the presence of an in-class observer.
  • Discussions based on real events – the ability to see what actually happened in the lesson rather than relying on recollection or potentially conflicting accounts.

Dr John Stephens joined delegates as the penultimate keynote speaker and welcomed the debate initiated by Tom Bennett and the DfE.

Dr Stephens joined the National College as director for school improvement in February 2012, and is now leading on Teaching Schools and system leadership in the new National College for Teaching and Leadership.
Inspired by developments in technology, Dr Stephens encouraged leaders to adopt a fresh perspective, quoting Proust as he explained that “the real voyage of discovery consists not of seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes”. Perhaps sometimes what is required is not always new technology or pedagogical approaches, but to look at our existing landscape through a new lens.

A clear strategy was laid down by Sir David Carter in the final speech of the day. The Regional Schools Commissioner for the South West outlined a plan for schools locally aspiring to a world-class education system in which there would be an increasing role for multi-academy trusts and free schools.

Sir David emphasised that a supportive network of schools will help to raise standards nationally, irrespective of their governance structure.

What can we learn from our colleagues and what are the recommendations? There is consensus that technology is not a substitute for poor teaching, but it can support the development of quality first teaching.

Innovation requires us to marry the accuracy and precision demanded from mastery of the curriculum, without dampening the tenacity that stems from creativity. Can we embrace technology using a skills-based curriculum, complemented by a content-based curriculum to develop learners with transferable skills and a global appeal?

  • Laura McPhee is head of primary at SSAT. For more information, visit www.ssatuk.co.uk


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