Written by education writer Gerald Haigh
Just before the half term Spring break I had a long and fascinating conversation with Jonathan Bishop, head of Broadclyst Primary, a village school not far from Exeter. Broadclyst, with its staff and children, as readers will know has been at the cutting edge of so many ICT developments over the years. They were pioneers of one-to-one computing, early adopters of Windows 7, and of what was then Office Communications Server (later to become ‘Lync’). They have also been running collaborative projects with schools across the world with the aid of Microsoft technology.
Renewing an old friendship
I first visited Broadclyst and met Jonathan Bishop when I went there for Microsoft, together with a video team, in the Spring of 2008. We were there to produce a case study in a series on ‘Innovative Schools’. Then, Jonathan was deputy head, and had already been a key part of a drive to improve teaching and learning, building the school to the point where it was – and is -- highly successful by every measure, and heavily oversubscribed.
When I made that visit, the school was attracting a lot of attention because of its very visible commitment to technology. The large, and then new, ‘lecture-theatre’ style classroom for Years 5 and 6, with a desktop computer for each child, made the news, sometimes, especially in the non-specialist press, in ways which distracted from the core mission which was actually all about learning. As a leadership team member put it to me at the time,
‘We want our children to be communicative, socially adept, creative, empathetic and capable of collaborative working in teams beyond national boundaries.’
It’s important, for example, not to miss either Broadclyst children’s considerable achievements in music, drama and art, or the fact that they are friendly, socially adept, knowledgeable and very much at ease with themselves.
When Jonathan became head in 2010, he was able to take the vision on, working with a succession of excellent teachers, remarkable children and supportive families, to harness the latest technology to a vision of personalised, independent and yet serious learning which would fit children for life in the 21st Century.
Up to speed
In that all-too-brief recent talk, Jonathan brought me up to date a little, taking me through more of what they are currently doing at Broadclyst. It all deserves more detailed coverage, so it’s pretty certain that this blog is a concise introduction to what I hope will be further analysis as time goes on.
Best known, perhaps, because it’s still hot news, is the children’s exciting success in the ‘Pitch Competition’ at the Microsoft Global Forum in Barcelona. There Broadclyst pupils, with Jonathan’s support, were awarded $25,000 which they will use to develop an enterprise project across 20 schools in 20 countries, involving 1000 children, making full use of Office 365, OneNote, Lync and Yammer.
It’s a project that really excites Jonathan. He’s currently looking for schools to participate (contact him if you’re interested) and we’re sure to return to the project when it goes live in the coming school year.
That said, international collaboration, far from being a new departure, has long been well embedded at Broadclyst. By 2008, when I visited the school, Broadclyst children were working on a collaborative project with a partner school in Holland, and the emerging global enterprise project, though groundbreaking in its extent, is one of a number currently running or planned at the school. Year Five children, for example, are working with schools across six countries, making documentary films each showing local attitudes to the same social issue their home culture. Year Four, too, are engaged in a similar exercise using photography.
Achieving the vision with Office 365
The really striking thing about today’s Broadclyst, though, is that this is a school where there’s been early, and visionary understanding of what Office 365 and its associated applications can do both for administration and learning. For example, Broadclyst , in the near future, will develop as the centre of a network of learning, becoming a multi-academy trust, a free school sponsor and a teaching school in association with Exeter University. In tune with the Broadclyst culture, that kind of arrangement should be collaborative rather than top-down hierarchical, which is where Office 365 scores particularly in association with OneNote and Lync.
‘It all allows us very powerful collaboration – three different schools, talking to each other, using Lync, sharing desktops, working on tasks together and publishing to One Note, ’ says Jonathan.
In the same way, he feels, the idea of teachers planning together – which currently is done cursorily perhaps in the staffroom, or by email on Sunday – can become much more real.
‘You can share, with Lync and One note, discussing what you want to achieve planning together on the same document, pulling in resources.’
Already, says Jonathan, the Broadclyst governing body has gone paperless, with the aid of Surface devices and Office 365, and he goes on, the same innovatory thinking is having its effect in the classroom.
‘The biggest step is that we are using wifi projection from Windows Surface Pros, engaging with the children and using digital ink.’
Add OneNote to this, he explains, and what happens is that the teacher and children effectively build the lesson together, making it available to the whole group – and beyond if necessary – with OneDrive.
Lync, too, has become a much-used classroom tool – children use it in class as well as for communication at a distance. All of that raises many questions, and deserves a closer look and, I hope, a chance to see it in action. It is, after all, in Jonathan’s phrase, ‘Moving to another level of teaching and learning.’
There will always be new things report on, too – Jonathan has high hopes for ‘Microsoft Mix’, for example, and I have no doubt that the children will love it for its possibilities, because they have taken every innovation so far and explored it to the limit.
‘Microsoft have concentrated on promoting anytime, anywhere learning,’ says Jonathan. ‘That aspiration of giving children the right tools to deliver the right outcomes is at heart of what Microsoft is doing with Office 365.’
Back to the future
The case study I wrote after my 2008 visit was published in 2009 by Microsoft as one of a series on Innovative Schools. Though the school has obviously moved on, the study is worth looking at, because it sets out a vision and set of principles that have continued to thrive.
It includes, for example, this paragraph, which applies to the Broadclyst of today as much, if not more, than it did to the school I saw then;
‘It is ICT that attracts attention to the school from around the world. However, it’s clear that the whole-school package includes three features—inspirational leadership, learning transformation, and ICT. They are inter-related and inter-dependent.’
The 2009 study can be found at