Longfield Academy takes schools ICT to a new level, and the implications for other schools are important
Longfield, in Kent, gets its first official mention in records in the Domesday Book and in Saxon Charters more than a thousand years ago. But in 2011 it has been setting new standards for learning and teaching with technologies.
The Longfield Academy for Arts and Sciences is thought to be the first school to offer iPads to all its learners and staff – and, even more unusual, there's no Microsoft. And the decision wasn’t made by Apple-oriented ICT advisers. It was based on consulting the school community – learners, staff and parents.
Sets of laptops, netbooks and iPads had been made available to the Longfield community and the response was overwhelming following two packed parent meetings – they wanted iPads.
The move was so radical that it was immediately misinterpreted and even attracted hostile media coverage claiming that parents were being burdened with unnecessary expense. Until it was revealed that Longfield’s decision had been based on a vision for learning that required mobile technology – with massive potential savings on printing and publications – and that the school had been working closely with the e-Learning Foundation to make sure that no learners were excluded.
A ‘financially sustainable approach’ that can be used by other UK schools
All students can have an iPad for use at school and at home, and initially that meant about 500 of them. There are currently about 900 students in the school and that number will rise to 1,100. It's a classic e-Learning Foundation equity scheme so it also includes families on very low incomes as well the better off. The iPad2s cost around £16 per month over three years and the cash comes from a mix of voluntary parental contributions, school funding and e-Learning Foundation mediated support.
“The programme is much more than just an ‘iPad scheme, says e-Learning Foundation vhief executive Valerie Thompson. “It is the result of a big vision from the school’s senior management team, with the iPads being properly integrated with all the other technology in use across the school.
“Not only has it been embraced by all the teachers, but the programme also enjoys good support from parents. More than 90 per cent of families are contributing and a small grant from the e-Learning Foundation has meant that it really is 100 per cent inclusive.
“While there is excitement around the pupils getting their iPads, the focus is very much on learning. The devices are hugely motivational in getting children to engage with their education in a different way.
“It is this sort of innovation which is helping the children at Longfield to achieve their full potential and succeed. Without programmes like this, disadvantaged children, who are more likely to need extra support, miss out and risk falling further behind.
“This is a financially sustainable approach so there is no reason why more schools in the country can’t adopt a similar approach and achieve the same buzz.”
Wireless networking moves up to a higher, robust level
It hasn’t taken Longfield Academy long to win national recognition. In November it won the ICT Facility Award in the Education Business Awards (it was also “commended” in the Outstanding Academy category). And students were quick to demonstrate the advantages of iPads for learning on the school’s own YouTube channel (see video below).
The ICT at Longfield is setting new benchmarks for schools. Wireless networking has long been a problem for many schools and thwarted many a plan for mobile “anywhere, any time” learning. Meru’s technology is changing all that with a new breed of wireless technology.
On one occasion around 120 students accessed Longfield’s wireless network from just one network point – in the canteen. Many corporates would envy such a level of service, and Meru has enjoyed increased demand from students engaged by such a professional service. Now the school is beefing up the school’s broadband supply.
““Longfield Academy is a high density education network, where the devices used rely on the wireless,” says Mark Howell, Meru’s area director for the UK and Ireland. “Meru are seeing a significant drive in the adoption of iPads within education. In the case of Longfield, 1,400 iPads are on the network.
“The academy’s teaching strategy and vision simply would not function without a wireless network that can deliver the necessary reliability and performance to this many devices concurrently. This is what Meru provides time and time again for thousands of education customers in the UK and Ireland."
To anyone familiar with Longfield’s ‘parent’ organisation, the Leigh Academies Trust, the developments at Longfield Academy come as no surprise. They echo the groundbreaking and highly successful work at the Leigh City Technology Academy (http://www.leighacademy.org.uk/) where proven successful elements of pedagogies and school organisation (like ‘school within a school’) were incorporated into new school design. This was highly influential in the best of the Building Schools for the Future programme, and chief executive Frank Green was a lead consultant in the National College’s BSF leadership programme.
Leigh’s achievements are set in the context of unwavering expectations on learners and this is also true of Longfield where results have been turned around and brought Ofsted recognition before it even moved into the new premises:
- 98 per cent of students achieved 5+ A*-C grades;
- 40 per cent of students achieved 5+ A*-C grades, including English and maths;
- 20 per cent of students achieved 3+ A*-A grades;
- 9 per cent of students achieved 5+ A*-A grades.
(The Leigh culture is also starting to bear fruit at its third secondary, Wilmington Academy when more technology innovation is expected. Leigh also has a special school.)
'Technology redefining relationships between learners, teachers and parents'
But Longfield is developing its own distinct identity within 'The Leigh', and the impact of clever technology supporting the learning is making itself felt. "The great thing about being the principal is being able to say 'Yes', and 'Why not?'" says Longfield's Neil Willis. "It's about empowering all learners to take themselves on to the next level. The iPads scheme has helped with that empowerment." As soon as a critical mass of users was achieved the changes became obvious, he said
"Longfield is a community of learners who are learning from each other. It's redefining the relationships between learners and between learners and teachers and parents. We are seeing teachers and parents as learners as well. Part of the challenge for us is how we engage the parents as learners to support their sons and daughters. We want the iPad to be a tool that's for all the family."
To demonstrate the point about teachers, he whipped out his own iPad and ran a video of young teachers at a curriculum planning meeting. You didn't need to listen to the conversations to note the high level of sharing of practice and resources as the iPads moved from teacher to teacher and between groups, the kind of natural sharing you simply don't see with laptops.
Longfield director of technology and enterprise Tim Cross showed an email from a newly qualified maths teacher sharing her intention to use a wiki for collaborative problem solving. "When kids have a problem the teacher usually has to solve it," he pointed out. "Using a wiki helps the learners to share in the problem solving – that's so easy with the iPad. This teacher has done that not because we have asked her to but because she can see the worth and can involve the students. Even teachers who have been ICT phobic are getting engaged."
He puts this down to the iPad's ease of use and its instantaneous readiness for action which have "removed the hierarchy of expertise". Teachers and pupils start using them without any trepidation. And young people make sure they are charged overnight because they are also their communication devices and music and video players. They know how much they cost and they value them.
Staff are now much more open to taking risks as a culture of "acceptable risk" starts to build up, and visitors pick up on this in the common refrain: "We're all learners now."
"There's a real joy in what's happening in Longfield," concludes Neil Willis. As a leader in school there's a real joy in seeing teachers taking pride in what they are doing You really get excited. Every day or every other day teachers are telling you what they are doing in the classroom. They are surprised at how well the kids are doing in such a short period of time, and they want to celebrate it."
The students reflect the excitement, and their own video on the school's YouTube channel (above) is a good example of the natural and creative uses they find for their new devices. But they have their feet on the ground too. Was my Longfield sixth-former guide on open day looking forward to getting his hands on his iPad2? "Hmmm, I might not get one," was his measured reply. "It could be too much of a diversion."
Why Longfield has opted for Apple – “The Leigh Academies Trust has chosen Apple hardware and software to develop all teaching and learning at all of its academies. We have identified Apple provides the best solution to develop creative and collaborative work. Hardware reviews have shown life expectancy and performance of Apple hardware to outlive traditional PC specification. This is important with the increasing demand on access to high-performance technology in education.”
Apple Inc will not be present at BETT 2012 as the company does not support non-Apple events (it is holdng its own event at London's St Pancras), but UK Apple specialists will attend BETT to show the range of technologies that have been attracting national and international interest at both Longfield and Essa Academies.
The ICT development and implementation for Longfield Academy was carried out by the 9ine consultancy.
BETT 2012, January 11-14
Apple Solutions Experts (including Toucan) Stand K16
MERU Stand F99