Broadclyst Community Primary School – Transforming the Learning Environment

The following article was written by Jonathan Bishop, Headteacher of Broadclyst Community Primary School, and originally appeared in the February edition of #TheFeed. To read more stories from school leaders, teachers, students and IT professionals working within education, explore #TheFeed on


Transforming the learning environment.

Broadclyst Community Primary School is a 200-year-old village school in the heart of a rural Devon community. It is also a Microsoft Showcase School with two Microsoft Educators (MIEEs) on its teaching team, and it has embedded technology throughout – something that has enhanced the sense of community through collaboration between teachers, children and parents.

The whole-school approach to technology has transformed the learning environment, providing a new way for both teaching and learning. The tools that enable this truly collaborative learning space are both physical and cloud-based.

In physical terms, we have deployed Microsoft Surface devices on a 1:1 basis. This allows a seamless transition between the very traditional concept of pen and paper, using digital inking, and the power, mobility and flexibility of tablet and laptop use in an endless variety of situations and environments – from the classroom to a field trip and of course, at home.

Coupling these physical tools with the powerful range of cloud-based tools available enables us to provide a rich collaborative learning environment for both students and teachers. Our extensive use of the growing suite of Office 365 web apps allows everyone to sign in from anywhere, but also integrates seamlessly to the local device to provide the power of rich desktop applications within the classroom environment.


Breaking down barriers

In using OneNote, we aim to break down the barrier between learning at school and learning at home. We have organised each class’s OneNote Class Notebook in such a way that both a child and their parent can find and access all of the resourcing that was used in the classroom on a particular day, including the teacher’s board notes in digital ink.

Students have personal areas that act as portfolios for electronic work, as well as providing a way for them to organise their learning targets,  watch video feedback and update their to-do lists. Anthony Lees and Matt Pitts, the school’s two MIEExperts, run a rolling programme of parent training, on a bi-weekly basis.  The aim is to increase parental engagement with learning, by providing parents with a practical understanding  of the school’s electronic resourcing.

Parents have been pleased by the new level of transparency that the school  has achieved. In addition, OneNote is a powerful collaboration tool. Not only is it used teacher-to-teacher, enabling joint planning, target setting, assessing and tracking, but it also allows teachers  to collaborate with the children.

We now utilise a wireless projection system across the school. Instead of using a whiteboard variant, we project from Microsoft Surface Tablets, most recently Surface Pro 4’s. This alters the dynamic of the learning environment, allowing teachers to move freely around the classroom. Using the electronic ink feature of OneNote (see Gerald Haigh’s article on Inking in the Classroom in The Feed issue 2), teachers are able to draw diagrams and write notes while still interacting with the children; this solves many of the pedagogical issues of a fixed whiteboard  or electronic whiteboard.

Notes then sync in real-time to student devices. Students are also able to wirelessly project their screens, in order to share their work. Then there is the collaboration between the students themselves. Children working on a project with key learning outcomes are sharing their thoughts, working together within OneNote. They are using digital ink, embedding video, spreadsheets and links, and they are bridging between home, school and the wider world.

Communication and presentation

We see children collaborating through Skype video calls, with OneNote open, as though they were in the same room. Allowing them to share a screen,  whether across the room, the school  or the globe, results in engaged,  problem-solving communication.

In addition, they use Yammer to post their ideas and create memories of decisions made or conversations held. Yammer becomes a discussion tool for them, seeking others’ views, putting forward their own and capturing their learning journey.

Following on from the sharing of ideas and collaborative working is the concept of presentation. The children are using Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Sway to present their ideas in a format that has real impact and meaning for them, and their teachers.

Global impacts Bringing all these tools into the whole-school approach is changing the way teachers think, work and plan, and it’s also changing how children learn.

We advocate project-based learning, developing the skills required for the 21st century by harnessing the physical and cloud-based tools and a very purposeful curriculum. It is very engaging – the children are very keen to participate –  and it has key literacy and numeracy  skills embedded within it.

For example, our Global Enterprise Challenge, for which Microsoft awarded us $25,000, is now in its second year, connecting schools and children across 21 countries across the world in one global entrepreneurship project. The quality  of work has been high, with a focus on making premium products. 

Last term, Year 6 held Skype meetings with their opposite numbers in Spain and, more recently, in Lebanon, sharing ideas and learning about different cultures. They are also using Outlook and Yammer to collaborate, across the globe, posting pictures and ideas and receiving feedback.

Jack, a Year 6 student at Broadclyst Community Primary School said,  “My own Surface Pro 3 has been the most amazing computer to have on my desk! I love working on it in the Global Enterprise Challenge. I am in the recycled product group and we have been designing things to sell such as a bird feeder, a handmade checkers board and table decorations. My favourite part of the Surface is using the pen in OneNote.”

We are also about to run, in January 2016, a Global Communities Project, with children in years 1 to 5 looking at different communities around the world. Each year group has a different collaborative project that is shared internationally. Projects range from documentary filming and photography to the growing of corn – and they are all underpinned by the use of Skype for Business and other collaborative tools.

Recently, the school received an International Schools Award from the British Council.

What next?

I believe that what defines our school is the scale and the depth of the digital tools into the daily life of all who work and learn at Broadclyst. Using the technology has transformed the way we think about and manage teaching and learning, as well as  the running of the school itself.

Now we’re about to open a new school,  built on the principles of collaboration  and communication and utilising the  same technology. The new primary  school is scheduled for opening in September 2016.

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