After spending last Thursday morning at Great Barr School, our merry band hopped into a minibus straight over to Shireland Collegiate Academy, on the other side of northern Birmingham, in Smethwick.
I’ve written about Shireland before on this blog, and their development of a Learning Gateway which is used not just within the Academy, but by over 100 other schools. To avoid repetition, I won’t repeat any of those stories – but you can read it all for yourself in this article, or download a set of PowerPoint slides from BETT 2008.
The Shireland Learning Gateway team
Our visit gave us the chance to spend some time in class, and then meet the developers of the Learning Gateway. Anoop and Michael got the chance to chat with three ex-Shireland students (Natalie, Stephen & Ian), who had been hired by the team to develop learning resources on behalf of the schools who are using the Gateway. This is an employment model that I have seen before – successful students being employed by their school to provide ICT support services. Not only is it good for them, in continuing to build future employability, heads have told me that it is also motivational for other students still in school, as it is an aspirational goal for current students. Fr
Meanwhile I was chatting with Ryan Guest, one of the team responsible for running the Gateway for Shireland’s academy, and got the chance to ask about their measures of success. If you’re running a Learning Gateway in a school, what are the ways that you measure your own success? I’m not sure if Ryan intended that I should share his answer, but I thought it would be useful comparison if you’re doing the same in your school. First and foremost, the success measure is learners’ attainment (and exam results). Of course, that means you may only know once a year if you’re being successful, so the everyday measures that are used are:
- Website traffic increases
The Learning Gateway team produce a daily report for Heads of Departments of traffic to their sections
- Weekly Head of Department meetings
To discuss feedback on usage, issues encountered, and developments (eg what assignments are to be uploaded, what changes are to be needed)
- Informal feedback and requests from students
Shireland’s Learning Gateway has a lot of quizzes and competitions on it, using learning games with leader boards. From the sound of it, Ryan regularly gets requested by students to design new games (often based on quiz shows on TV!) and/or requests to reset leader boards on existing competitions, so everyone can have another go. This bit was intriguing – students wanting to regularly take tests in order to prove their knowledge!
A little later we met a head of a local primary school that had used the Gateway to keep in touch with parents whilst the pupils were away at a residential week. Travis Latham, who’s Head of Shireland Hall Primary School, told us about the way that a simple blog on the Gateway had engaged pupils and parents, with some parents logging on several times a day to get updates on how their children were doing. It made me wonder if it was a trojan horse for improving the engagement of parents with school work, as well as encouraging them to get more involved in the use of ICT to support learning.
Time for discussions and questions
Heading towards the end of the afternoon, we then got a chance to talk with a parent and to find out their views on home-school learning links, then a group of students who’d made it into last term’s 100% Attendance club. Once a term they have a reward meeting, with cakes and doughnuts to reward all of those in each year group that had attended every session. And this group of Year 8’s were given the chance to ask any questions they wanted of the visitors. I’ve been involved in a few of these now, and know that some questions will always come up every time - “Have you met Bill Gates”, “Did you design the XBox” and “How much do you earn” are favourites. This time around, with Anoop in the room (“Yes, I used to work directly for Bill”) the answers were a little more exciting, but next time we really must take somebody from the XBox team on tour!
The thing that happened in this session, that has never happened before, was that the 100% club wanted to collect autographs from their visitors. I can’t imagine that they’ll ever have the same cachet as a footballer’s signature, but they’ll have something to talk about for the next couple of days.
Finally, we had to jump back in the minibus to get to New Street Station, ready for our trip down to Devon. Armed with another set of interesting stories and different perspectives, we left with a debate going all the way back to the station (this time the discussion with the leadership team about different pools of data in the education system led us to a debate about what we could do to help all schools could effectively use their data sets to raise performance).