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Develop your own apps: it’s easier than you might think, and gives great benefits

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Achievement Show Preview: tasters of what you can look forward to

This is the seventh of our Achievement Show Preview: tasters of what you can look forward to series. During the series, you will hear from practitioners and leaders who are presenting at this year’s Achievement Show – giving you a preview of what to expect from their presentations.

Zone: Learning Technologies
Presentation: Developing your own apps to drive school improvement
School: William Edwards School
Presenters: Steve Munday, Headteacher and Simon Bell, Deputy Headteacher

William Edwards School has used innovation and creativity to transform teaching and the use of data to raise standards. A key example of this is the development of their own apps – a range of in-house teaching ‘toolkits’ – and new systems to embed the approach. At the Achievement Show, Head of School Simon Bell will show how they did it and highlight resources other schools can use.

After achieving its first ‘outstanding’ rating from Ofsted five years ago, William Edwards School (WES) decided to push for ‘something even better’. Like a number of other schools at that time, they thought iPads were the answer.

The devices were intended to be used to boost creativity in the classroom and drive their school improvement agenda. However, the school’s leaders found there was a limit to what they could do. So they decided to develop the applications they needed themselves.

In seeking a ‘one-stop shop’ for planning and data applications to support teaching and learning, they found that what was available commercially did not meet their needs, so they set about developing their own apps.

What was available commercially did not meet their needs, so they set about developing their own apps

The first, developed by the staff and outsourced to a Swedish app developer, was a lesson planning app (‘Wesplanner’) which enables teachers to collaborate on lesson plans and share them; and crucially helps them to reduce their workload.

It also drives the creativity and consistency agenda the school has pushed for. The app was so well received that the school took the decision to put it onto the Apple AppStore and it has been downloaded thousands of times across the globe, Simon Bell reports.

The small income from its wider use has covered the development costs ‘but that was never our intention. We just wanted to develop our own approach to pedagogy.’

The second app, an in-house data management system (‘eData’) has successfully overcome the frustrations the school had experienced with commercial data systems.

This time, they employed an in-house computer programmer who has effectively replaced the need for a data manager.

The app gives class teachers, managers and school leaders all the data they need, in a format that suits them. The app has evolved into a useful aid in managing teachers’ day-to-day life.

Everything from booking rooms and minibuses to reviewing individual student targets and seating plans is included. ‘It works seamlessly and is constantly evolving as staff suggest further refinements,’ says Simon. ‘Our latest addition is a randomiser which uses student pictures to select students to answer questions.’

The app approach works seamlessly and is constantly evolving as staff suggest further refinements

These developments are not just convenient and time-saving. WES’ leadership team is convinced they are driving school improvement. ‘It really helps in managing the school,’ Simon maintains. For example, an NQT ‘can ping their lesson plans off to the head of department…. The eData system provides timely reports on so many aspects of progress in the school – and crucially, in the form we want it.’ It has led to a highly collaborative, creative approach.

The school’s future plans for their apps include giving parents access to selected data and reports – ‘you can extract reports out and email them very easily.’

Flexible classrooms
The school has been creative in other ways, too, such as in its learning spaces. ‘We wanted to remove the shackles of the conventional layouts, etc, in the 1960s buildings,’ says Simon Bell.So desks have wheels and are highly flexible: the classroom can, within 30 seconds, be transformed from one type of learning space to another.And desks and walls are made of materials that allow students and teachers to write on them. What with these, the iPads and Apple TV, handouts are now a thing of the past.

Images can be wirelessly streamed and shown on the walls, and students can write their annotations directly onto them. ‘It’s been amazingly useful – I’ve seen so many stunning examples,’ Simon enthuses.

The purpose of all these innovations? ‘Staff have freedom to be inventive and take risks. We’ve had a lot of CPD to show good use of these things.’ All teachers are involved in the process, and a lot of these ideas have come from the staff.

Staff and students have also suggested many of the modifications made along the way. ‘We’re always talking about what we can do next with it.’

In the last five years the school’s examination results have been 10-20% above national averages, from a cohort below national average on starting at the school.

It has seen a 20% increase in the number of good and outstanding lessons since the Ofsted inspection. WES was named ‘Educational Establishment of the Year’ at the 2014 Education Resources Awards.

‘We now have lots of conversations about pedagogy,’ says Simon. ‘There’s now a vibrancy about pedagogy and trying new things. That for me is the most important thing we’ve achieved.’

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