Surviving and thriving in the world of computing

Using technology to support learning has allowed schools in the London Borough of Havering to thrive during times of educational change. Havering Education Services explains how.

The education system has undergone much change over recent years. The academisation of schools coupled with cuts in school funding means that more forward thinking leaders in education are exploring different means of providing education and generating income.

Open minded schools, local authorities and academy chains are moving into partnerships with commercial organisations in areas such as resource development and CPD. These marriages can be very successful, resulting in high quality and scalable solutions for schools. Havering Education Services, for example, partnered up with Rising Stars, resulting in curriculum materials that have been developed with the borough’s subject teams, trialled by schools in the borough and sold to schools nationally, generating revenues for the borough in the process.

Experienced hands
Amanda Jackson and Dave Smith have been part of the Havering Education Services’ Computing and Online Safety team for over 10 years. During that time they have seen a lot of change in terms of the curriculum and support needs of schools, as well as having to adapt to the challenges of moving from a grant funded model to a full cost recovery traded service providing services for schools in Havering and beyond. This took imagination and new approaches if support for schools in Havering was going to continue to survive and grow. To achieve this the Havering team focused-on working collaboratively to build partnerships with companies and other organisations that not only provide new products and services for schools, but also an ongoing income stream to help cover the operating costs of the not‑for-profit organisation. The most successful has been Havering’s six-year partnership with educational publishers Rising Stars.

A technology background
The use of technology to support learning has always been a strength in Havering schools, with many embracing new ideas keenly once they were sure of their worth. The Havering team had already been recognised by Becta with an ICT Excellence Award for Support for Schools. Therefore, the consultancy support infrastructure offered by Havering was in a strong position with schools deciding that they wanted to continue this relationship as the support moved away from a centrally funded model to one where schools had increased choice over who to purchase their services from.

At the same time, schools were increasingly in need of new curriculum materials as old QCA units were looking increasingly out of date. The Havering Computing and Online Safety team saw these as opportunities to address. Therefore, in 2010 Havering formed a partnership with publishers Rising Stars to develop Switched on ICT for primary and secondary schools. This provided all Havering schools with free learning materials and allowed Havering Education Services to receive a royalty for copies of the scheme sold elsewhere, thus helping to rebalance the affects to changes in core funding.

New curriculum, new challenge
In 2013, the announcement of a new national curriculum for computing offered more opportunities to develop new products, services and income streams for Havering. As a subject, ICT was also strong whether taught discreetly or across the curriculum. This being the case, Havering had good foundations for implementing the computing curriculum in 2014. That said, it was – and continues to be – a challenge for many. The challenge has mainly been to develop teachers’ subject knowledge sufficiently to feel confident teaching the new content, specifically the computer science elements. To support this, Amanda and Dave have run many workshops, in schools and centrally at their state of the art learning and development centre at CEME Campus, Rainham. These sessions have concentrated on ways to teach the curriculum content as well as ideas for how to use some new hardware and software schools are using.

Amanda Jackson, Havering’s inspector for computing and online safety explains: “Focusing-on how to teach was helped by our existing partnership with Rising Stars; we had worked together on Switched on ICT. Once we knew that computing was coming we started working on Switched on Computing. Primary schools in Havering were right at the heart of the development and trialling of the resources, this included schools that were trailblazers as well as those that classed themselves as relative novices. This gave us lots of ideas about how schools, at all stages, would feel about the resource and where support would be required.

“All schools in Havering use Switched on Computing, but their expertise and strengths all lay in different places. Our plan was to provide training that would suit all abilities, with some sessions repeated for beginners, intermediate and advanced users. At the heart of all of the sessions is the development of teacher’s knowledge and understanding of the subject as well as the hardware and software. We are not there yet, and we continue to work together to make sure that the provision in our schools is a good as it can be.”

Bringing industries together
Andrea Carr, managing director of Rising Stars/Hodder/Galore Park comments: “Our Switched On Computing resources are a great example of how publishing expertise and local authority and school expertise can come together to do something fantastic. The team and schools in Havering helped to ensure that the resources were on the button in terms of content and ease of use, and over 6,500 schools nationally now use the resources to deliver a high quality computing curriculum to primary children. And it’s a financial partnership too, so the borough has been able to enjoy a revenue stream as a result of their contribution.

“I’m really proud of the work we have done together and I hope that our new Switched On Online Safety resources, coming in January 2017, will be just as successful.”

Alison Martin, computing and online safety leader at Parklands Infant School, Havering explains the value of working with the Havering Computing and Online Safety team: “We in Parklands Infants have used Switched On Computing as a resource to deliver an engaging, exciting and relevant computing curriculum for our children. The detailed modules allow experts and non-experts alike to confidently deliver sessions.

“Our Local Authority computing and online safety team provides regular sessions for all computing leaders keeping them updated on all aspects of the computing curriculum. They run specific training sessions on online safety both for staff and parents. In addition, they also provide ongoing training sessions for staff on different applications. They are always available to provide advice and support, be it in school or via email or on the phone.”

Switched on Computing received the accreditation of a Bett Award in 2015 and has also led to the development of Switched on iPad, Learn To Code and Switched on Minecraft designed to help teachers support the needs of pupils in the classroom.

Online Safety
As this article was being written, an email arrived in the Havering Education Services’ inbox with new guidance from the UK Council for Child Internet Safety explaining new guidance on ‘Sexting in schools and colleges: Responding to incidents and safeguarding young people’. In the ever-changing world of technology, there are always updates and changes to be aware of when you are concerned with keeping children and young people safe online. Sometimes it is hard for schools to keep-up with current trends, particularly when new apps and games are constantly being developed, but it is important to remember that the users are children and young people who need to be reminded of how to keep themselves safe.

Keeping the focus on behaviours rather than the technology can make this easier. By focusing on responsible use, children and young people can adapt to whatever technology they are using. For example, if they are taught how to consider the implications of what they are posting, it doesn’t matter whether they are using Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook or any other apps – as least they have some guidelines.

In order to support schools, Havering have developed a number of different approaches, for pupils, for teachers, for parents and for other stakeholders, for example governors. All are concerned with keeping children safe online, but the information given can be slightly different. By ensuring that messages and resources are appropriate for the audience, it means that users are more likely to engage with the content.

Members of the team from Havering Education Services sit on different groups and working parties in Havering, London and nationally to ensure they are at the heart of news, policies and updates. This means that schools get really up-to-date information that is applicable to them. The Havering team see this as a valuable use of their time and improves the way in which they can respond to schools. This support is also sought by schools outside of Havering who find it increasingly valuable and central to their school improvement needs.

Resources for online safety
Havering are currently working on new support materials for online safety with Rising Stars. Entitled ‘Switched on Online Safety’ they will provide support for teaching staff to address current issues with online safety, especially bridging the gap between home and school in terms of ensuring that pupils are kept safe when engaging with online activities. Watch out for this at the Bett Show in January 2017.

Emma Griffin, computing and online safety leader at Dersingham Primary School, Newham explains how support from the Havering team has assisted her school: “Havering offer a great range of continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities. We have booked a whole day for online safety CPD for the past two years and will be continuing to do so. Throughout the day, all stakeholders are trained – parents, all pupils plus staff and governors. This ensures staff have annual, up to date training for online safety. The timetable for CPD for this year has a host of training sessions for me, as co-ordinator, but also for individual class teachers to attend. There are even training sessions based on specific Switched On Computing units.”

Advice for others
The Havering team have worked closely with schools and other providers to develop other forms of advice for support and advice for schools. Susan Cumbers, computing and online safety lead and school business manager at Corbets Tey School, Havering, explains how this is benefiting her school: “As a special school, we are always seeking new ways of extending and enhancing curriculum access for our pupils. The Computing Curriculum has provided us with a challenge but also accessible, motivating and enabling opportunities for creative, collaborative teaching and learning. We have been supported by the high quality computing training and termly computing updates provided by the Havering Education Services and have used this to inform our own school development and to ensure that our teachers have the most relevant and appropriate computing resources and information to support their teaching.

“The Havering Apple Regional Training Centre (RTC) events, managed by Havering’s computing and online safety adviser Dave Smith, have been extremely beneficial to staff at our school. Apple iPads have been an extremely significant investment in the school and have enhanced learning across the curriculum as well as providing a communication tool for a growing number of our children. We were therefore extremely pleased to be invited to join the Havering Apple RTC Management Board of a small number of local schools. Our involvement has already established a whole-school focus on using iPads to increase communication and interaction in learners through collaborative, open ended problem solving learning conditions and this was demonstrated through a training event hosted at our school.”

Susan Cumbers continued: “As a specialist school in Communication and Interaction, sharing our practice in this area with other schools has always been an important part of our school vision. We are currently collaborating with Havering Education Services and Havering’s Speech, Language and Communication Service (SLCS), as well as Crick Software and Widgit, in hosting a conference for schools to share information and demonstrate specialist software and resources to deliver ‘Inclusive Teaching and Learning through Technology ‘. This will provide an opportunity for many schools in our borough and beyond to learn more about the options available to them in delivering a differentiated curriculum and inclusive approaches to teaching. The event will also establish a network of schools who can share good practice and ideas to ensure high quality learning opportunities for all pupils.”

Venturing beyond havering
Havering Education Services’ Computing and Online Safety team has also been asked to provide support services for Computing and Online Safety (including Switched on Computing) for schools, academies and trusts outside of Havering including regular network meetings for schools in Harlow, Basildon and the London Borough of Redbridge. These mirror the types of support available to schools in Havering. This provides an ongoing income stream to help fund the Havering service and to keep the costs at a reasonable level for schools and academies. What’s more, the team were recently invited to provide training to a group of schools in Qatar. This builds on international relationships that they already have with countries such as Japan, Denmark and others.

Naace expertise
Dave Smith is also the Chair of the UK’s Education Technology Association ‘Naace’ – representing the association at events such as Bett, the Education Show, the Academies Show and most recently on BESA’s British Pavilion at the ISTE Conference in Denver, Colorado, USA. These events provide excellent opportunities for networking and allows Dave to seek out new work streams for Havering and Naace, with Dave also holding the role of Business Development Lead within the Havering Education Services’ school Improvement team.

Dave Smith comments: “Schools, academies and trusts continue to need consultancy and training support. They want to use providers who not only offer quality, but also value for money that helps to ensure that their investment of valuable funds has the maximum impact on pupil outcomes. We will strive to continue to address schools’ specific requirements and work with our partners in both schools and the commercial sector to achieve this. That is at the heart of everything we do in Havering and therefore look forward to this continuing long into the future.”

Further information