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Ensuring learning technologies have impact, through effective leadership and pedagogies

girl-with-robotFor the ninth year, SSAT has celebrated and shared outstanding practice from schools across the country in the Achievement Show – this year, back at the site of the original show, the Emirates Stadium, North London.

Leaders and teachers from over 50 schools gave presentations of no longer than 45 minutes, highlighting their challenges and successes. Most importantly, the speakers gave the detail, and advice on what worked and what didn’t, and why.

The presentations covered a wide range of subjects and approaches: there was something there for everyone. Over the next week, we are publishing on our blog reports from a small selection, covering mobile technology in and outside the classroom, motivating disparate categories of students, retaining learning, school radio stations, special needs education, and oracy in young people from severely deprived backgrounds.

We begin below with Greg Hughes’ session on the impact of learning technologies at de Ferrers Academy…

How you use iPads or other new technologies is a leadership issue, said Greg Hughes, de Ferrers Academy’s vice-principal for learning technologies and curriculum.

He started his presentation with a list of some of the things that happen on the internet in one minute: 47,000 apps are downloaded, 204 million emails are sent, six new Wikipedia articles are published. “We use this with the kids quite a lot, it’s a great way to get them to appreciate the power of learning technologies.” Yet, he noted a lot of teachers, and a lot of schools, don’t use them.

The de Ferrers Academy, based in Burton on Trent, has two campuses, for students aged 11-14, and 14-18. In the latter, all students and teachers have iPads – that’s 1500 machines. Families make a contribution towards the cost, for those students who take their iPads home. For families that cannot afford to pay, the school uses some of its pupil premium funds.

A passionate believer in the educational value of ICT, Greg Hughes says it can provide:

  • resources allowing 24/7 access to learning (with apps such as Explain Everything, Google drive, iBooks)
  • assessment for learning (Socrative, Showbie, Edmodo)
  • more efficient digital workflow
  • better collaboration and communication, by making sharing of best practice easier
  • greater inclusion, partly by making modelling easy and instant, eg with AirPlay, iMovie or Keynote
  • increased creativity (eg if applying the top level, redefinition, in the SAMR model – see the report on Wood Green Academy’s use of mobile technology, xxx).

However, he was keen to point out that redefinition does not necessarily require the use of technology: what it relies on most are appropriate mindset, approach and team working.

CPD for new tech

The de Ferrers Academy started using iPads in 2012, providing the tablets for 300 sixth formers. Its progress to almost universal use in the upper school has been accompanied by a broad and sophisticated approach to CPD. This now includes a number of people with specific roles:

  • 12 faculty iPad pioneers, usually bright young teachers, who receive no extra pay, but take part in biannual faculty meetings;
  • and six student digital leaders.

There are termly learning technology meetings for all staff; weekly drop-ins with the learning technology team; and ongoing class support, blogs etc.

In addition, hundreds of people each year come into the school for tech-related projects and discussions from all across the UK and Europe. De Ferrers works with the universities of Derby, Nottingham and Hull in mutually supportive roles in the development and use of mobile learning technology, especially in initial teacher training.

De Ferrers works with the universities of Derby, Nottingham and Hull in mutually supportive roles in the development and use of mobile learning technology

Apps for accelerated learning

Returning to the theme of accelerated learning, Greg Hughes highlighted the value of apps that allow a student’s exemplary work to be instantly shared with the class.

Enabling the teacher to create an audio message for the student is “much better than writing in their exercise book. The student gets the emotional impact in your voice as well as the words.” And it’s so convenient: “I’ve made these while cooking dinner. You can then stick them on YouTube or Google Drive. If for example all the students in the class get something wrong, you can quickly and easily tell them.”

‘Instant books’ enable the teacher to quickly and easily explain, for example, aspects of trigonometry; and moving diagrams can demonstrate how a process works.

Another app that Greg rated highly is iTunes U. “It’s better than the traditional learning platform; it moves away from all the class doing the same things at the same time. They can all work at their own pace, with the particular resources they need: learning objectives, weblinks and questions. And you can put all the questions in, so the kids can differentiate their own learning by deciding which to tackle.”

How mobile tech can motivate

For example, he described a low-achieving set studying Of mice and men. They chose to tackle a challenging discussion question – ‘Does Lennie’s innocence make him more or less of a threat?’ – “because it’s on iPad, they’re keen to do it.”

Another example of the motivational effect of mobile technology was a year 11 child development group, who created ambitious blogs on baby development, contraception and female health, and then tested their effectiveness with local primary school children. “Because it’s online, they want to be really good, with the illustrations and even getting the spelling right. They’re flying through the work, and now doing research as well.”

To help delegates (not to mention this reporter) who might have been somewhat baffled by all the apps mentioned, Greg Hughes recommends this collection of apps, tools, books, etc – as the best one-stop shop for iPad and iPhone.


The impact of this digital learning at De Ferrers has been notable. The school’s results, already very good, have moved further ahead of national averages, and its pupil premium children are now moving closer to their peers on performance. In November 2014, Ofsted commented on the school’s “impressive use of iPads for feedback”, and for two of the last three years they have achieved record results at GCSE and A-level.

Despite the initial costs of equipment, overall spending on technology has reduced by more than £60,000pa thanks to savings in other areas. Although saving money was never the intention: in approving the initial outlay, de Ferrers Academy’s executive principal Steve Allen had said, “It’s not a cost, it’s an investment in the future.”

Check out photos from the SSAT Achievement Show 2016 on our Facebook page.

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Follow Greg on Twitter.

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