Working together, achieving together – How Tibshelf Community School’s technology came to embody its educational mission – Part One

•    £14.9m new school project completed in record time with ICT infrastructure at its heart
•    Over 95% of school’s pupils expected to use BYOD provision
•    Tibshelf Community School is a state secondary school in Derbyshire, educating 787 pupils between years 7 to 11
•    A vital learning hub for a number of villages in the surrounding area

Tibshelf Community School, Derbyshire serves a disparate community of nine villages spread widely across the districts of Bolsover and North-East Derbyshire. The school’s mission is ‘Working Together, Achieving Together’ in recognition of its collaborative culture. This collaborative culture is the nucleus of everything, including the school’s next generation ICT infrastructure.

“Stone Group has been very committed to making it work for us. They have consistently gone above and beyond what was expected from our new-build project. We really wanted inspiration and an injection of fresh ideas and Stone has given us exactly that. Their collaboration with our building contractor has been exemplary and that is testament to the skilled people they have within the team. Stone is not the cheapest, but their ability to offer a total solution and service is second to none.” -  Brian Fischer, Assistant Headteacher

The situation: outdated technology and a challenging site

  • · IT infrastructure grown sporadically since the 1980s
  • · All technology at ‘end of life’
  • · SAN 5+ yrs old, Servers 8+ years old
  • · Two Management Information Systems thanks to recent federations
  • · Just four IT suites for 750 pupils
  • · 95% of devices were desktops
  • · No WiFi due to Victorian construction of buildings

In 2008, Tibshelf federated with another school six miles away that was underperforming and took on additional pupils at their legacy site on the High Street – a location which the school had resided in for over a hundred years.

Brian Fischer, Assistant Headteacher explains: “Tibshelf Community School was Portakabin City for a couple of years. Our buildings were falling down, with leaks everywhere and plaster coming off the walls. We had prefabricated classrooms built for temporary use in the 1940s that were being held up by pit props! Teachers would look forward to lessons within the Portakabins as they were the best classrooms we had.”

Four IT suites were formally structured, with 2 of the 4 being used primarily to teach ICT lessons, giving little opportunity for other faculties to access ICT. Owing to Victorian blue-brick buildings, WiFi within the school was not cost effective limiting options and proving a thorn in the side of ambitious teachers and network technicians.

Lack of access to ICT was commented on by Ofsted, and was always raised as an issue during parent and pupil surveys. Brian gives an example of the issues: “Science teachers had a lot of creative ideas on how to use technology within lessons. They couldn’t get anywhere near any kit to book out, which meant integrating ICT into lessons was nigh on impossible.”

The aftermath of Building Schools for the Future

  • · School was a casualty of the demise of the BSF programme
  • · Derbyshire County Council funded and approved new building project after BSF withdrawal
  • · IT budget was reduced by over 80% from original BSF £4m

With oversubscribed pupils and inadequate school buildings that were falling down, the situation was less than ideal. Tibshelf was awarded priority on the Building Schools for the Future initiative in October 2006.

Brian continues: “We had been patching everything on a needs-must basis, and that included ICT. We were already a couple of years behind as we weren’t spending anything in anticipation of the windfall BSF would provide our school. This made an already bad situation even worse. The ICT Support Team worked wonders with the little that they had but lack of any new equipment was hindering their progress.”

However, Michael Gove announced in 2010 that the BSF programme was to cease, and Tibshelf’s situation became more critical.

Brian explains: “We were extremely far down the line with the BSF project – two months away from diggers arriving on site. The Government put strict rules in place for the projects that could continue and we were only days away from meeting that threshold.”

With no BSF project, federated pupils and crumbling facilities, the school worked up an alternative plan with Derbyshire County Council. A £14.9m building project was approved in September 2011 with money from the County Council that included £8m from other Derbyshire schools.

Although the school new-build budget had been approved, the school’s ICT budget had been significantly impacted. With £4m earmarked through the initial BSF budget, the school had to put a strong case forward to secure funds in support of their classroom vision – eventually receiving less than 20% of the figure originally planned.

It was not just budget that was short on supply. Schools rebuilt through the Derbyshire BSF programme historically had a period of 12 uninterrupted weeks after building had finished to install a new IT infrastructure. Time was also going to be in short supply when it came to improvements to IT, owing to construction deadlines that could not be changed.

Building the next generation school

  • · Post BSF project changed in budget size and site footprint
  • · Collaborative classroom design with faculty staff
  • · Consultation pushed BYOD high up on the priority list

Construction on the new-look Tibshelf Community School commenced in September 2012. Although the school had secured vital funds, the project scope had to be altered to accommodate vastly different economic circumstances. The post-BSF project budget was significantly less than it had been and meant the school’s footprint had to reduce by around 50%.

“This made us re-look at the whole flow of the school in order to ensure we made effective and efficient use of every single square metre,” commented Brian. Tibshelf’s Senior Leadership Team consulted with teachers to answer the fundamental question – ‘What would you want in a new school?’ – and asked them to draw their ideal classroom, knowing this would put pedagogy at the heart of the new-look, accommodating for the different teaching styles of faculty staff.

Ideas were smart and pupil-focused, for example, access to classrooms would be built outside under canopies as corridors took up vital indoor learning space – a result of the faculty’s desire for nothing to detract from the quality of the teaching environment.

The school had the starting point of curriculum excellence. With Mark as network manager involved in all stages of this consultation, the role of technology as part of the overhaul to learning spaces was integral.

A number of overarching themes became apparent:

· The notion of anytime, anywhere teaching and learning. The Senior Leadership Team and governors wanted the same experience at home for all – students, teachers and admin staff should be just as productive out of school as they are in school

· Personalised experience – to further the notion of anytime, anywhere, the faculty and students wanted to get the same experience whether working on a smartphone, PC or tablet

Mark offers his perspective: “This meant that Any Device Learning went to the top of our strategic IT priorities. Considering where we had been with funding historically, our budget for the future and the drive from students and teachers – this made sense for us.”

Read the second part of Tibshelf’s story here on Thursday 10th April as we discover how the school built an entirely new IT infrastructure and how ‘working together, achieving together’ became more than just a mantra.

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