#TheFeed – How good might our leadership be? By Merlin John

The following post features in the Jan/Feb 2017 issue of #TheFeed, our online magazine bringing you the best stories from Microsoft Showcase Schools and #MIEExperts, thought leadership, and news from the Microsoft in Education team. This piece is written Merlin John - a widely respected journalist known for his expertise in education and ICT - and explores the vital role that leadership plays in enhancing children's learning, and ways to transform your school to through the use of technology.

Head over to SlideShare to browse all the latest stories from this edition of #TheFeed:

#TheFeed - How good might our leadership be?

by Merlin John

"How good might our children really be?" It’s a simple question, one you are likely to hear from leading UK academic Professor Stephen Heppell, a figure synonymous with technology for learning. Less is more: its profundity lies as much in what it doesn’t ask as in what it actually does.

How good might they be, if we didn’t:

  • Narrow their horizons with prescriptive curricula?
  • Limit their contributions with rigid, outdated assessment regimes?
  • Hamper them from pursuing learning across subject confines, as they would in adult life?
  • Stultify their creativity and engagement by placing them in unsuitable learning environments?
  • Fail to exploit the power of technology to support, extend and improve learning and teaching?

Education reform expert Professor Michael Fullan has brought technology into his work in recent years (see “A Rich Seam – How New Pedagogies find Deep Learning”). His view is that while technology is not one of the key levers for education reform, it can accelerate all the ones he has identified in his writings.

Professor Fullan is committed to change at scale, and has already demonstrated how it can be done. So what’s the problem with education’s encounter with technology?

Pundits have been fond of blaming teachers for failing to engage with technology, but here in the UK what has become clear is that technology for learning has virtually disappeared from the political agenda for schools in England. That’s not the case in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but the acme of schools strategy for England, where all were once encouraged to become academies, is seen by many as a backwards move, the reintroduction of grammar schools.

"The staff’s support in welcoming more than half the new intake with stimulating learning activities, was inspirational..."



If only the former promise to trust teachers and schools had been held on to. Because there’s plenty of evidence to show that they are perfectly capable of ensuring that we discover just how good our children might be, and that successful policy works best when it comes from proven practice. A visit to Shireland Collegiate Academy this year as a dragon for the ‘Digital Dragons Den’ culmination of their annual Summer School showed duty of care taken to new levels.

Given that research shows that most children’s progress stalls in the move from primary to secondary (known as ‘cross phase’), the staff’s support in welcoming more than half the new intake with stimulating learning activities, was inspirational for this particular visitor. Just as it clearly was for the new students who even got a taste of the ‘flipped learning’ that Shireland is pioneering (and with its local primary schools for a major national research study with the Education Endowment Foundation – see also European Schoolnet’s “Enhancing learning through the Flipped Classroom: Shireland Collegiate Academy”).


Then there is Broadclyst Community Primary School in Devon, another of those schools that defies the boxes that people try to place them in. Yes it’s a Microsoft showcase school (like Shireland), but schools like this are always going to achieve the best for their students with or without technology partners. Of course the partnership makes it work better. And Microsoft and Broadclyst learn from each other.

Take Broadclyst’s Global Education Challenge which, in its second year, reached 700 students aged 9-12 in 200 teams across 20 countries. The 2016-17 event has been extended to involve secondary students (aged 12-15). Schools from the Dominican Republic, Spain, Jordan, the Netherlands, USA and Albania have already signed up (see “Devon primary’s global enterprise reels in secondaries”).

This also has huge implications for cross-phase work as both primary and secondary will collaborate on similar enterprise projects that entail real-life tasks, international collaboration, sharing with external audiences.

It’s a mistake to see the great learning and teaching in schools like Shireland and Broadclyst as down to the technology, although it does play an important part. At the heart of both schools lies tremendous duty of care, to do the very best for the learners to show just how good they can be. Every tool, including edtech, is enlisted for that purpose.Change is spreading. Back in 2003 US academic Professor Larry Cuban authored the iconic Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom.

It was a timely warning about ineffective investments in schools ICT. Now he is beginning to see benefits appear in California classrooms and is working on a new book to be published in 2017 (see “Can learning fly like a butterfly or a bullet?”). Professor Cuban, someone inured to technology proselytisers and lobbyists, has been finding successful integration of technology for learning at teacher, school and district (local authority) level. You can already see the work in progress on his blog.

There is so much to celebrate in schools when it comes to their successful use of technology, but right now the UK does need a strategic political touch to ensure that this is not just something happening in a minority of schools. It’s time for the reluctant policymakers to recognise that, join in the celebrations and help embed in policy what has been proven by great schools and their teachers and learners. “How good might our children really be?” Is a really good question to work with.

Follow Merlin John on Twitter @MerlinJohn

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