By Gerald Haigh
One of my abiding memories from school is of walking the Yorkshire moorland on a geography field trip, alongside my best friend, John Gregory. Ten miles into what was to be a 15-mile expedition, John, who was small and not well blessed by his creator, suddenly halted and dropped to his knees. “Sorry,” he said ruefully. “But I’ve reached knackeration point.”
John eventually lost one of the many brave battles he fought against his limitations, but I use that phrase many times, always in tribute to that moorland moment. The last time I used it was at BETT 2010.
It was on the Friday evening of BETT, at the TeachMeet gathering which, frankly, I was too tired to appreciate and eventually had to give up on. All the more reason, of course, to respect and admire the indefatigable energy of the very many who were still well up for whatever was on offer.
I have to say, too, that Teachmeet is clear evidence of a sea-change that’s happened in education during the years I’ve been involved in it as a practitioner and a commentator. Once, teachers flocked to hear HMI (We knew their names. Could you name one current HMI?) and were suspicious of presentations by fellow-teachers, who always had to overcome a strong “Who does she think she is?” undercurrent in the audience. Now, it’s the other way round. Is that a good thing? Maybe, but let’s hope there’s a middle ground somewhere.
So what did I see at Bett that I liked? Well, having already been knocked out by a preview of Capita’s SIMS Discover – a real dashboard for access to data – I felt justified by the amount of interest it was raising among visitors.
And having also spent some time recently looking at the way schools use Microsoft SharePoint for parental engagement, I was very impressed by Mike Herrity, assistant head and SharePoint evangelist from Twynham School, one of a number of teachers who worked tirelessly to bring classroom credibility to the Microsoft stand.
Twynham's Learning Gateway had 80 per cent 'attendance' when school closed by snow
Mike Herrity had some statistics about the way Twynham’s Learning Gateway was used during a “Snow Day” closure. On a normal school day they’ll have about 900 separate logins to the platform, in school time, by students. On the day they were closed 774 students logged on to the learning platform from home. That’s 86 percent of the use experienced on a normal school day. And I don’t believe other schools can’t, or don’t already, have that kind of experience with their learning platform. The important thing is to monitor it, use it for planning, and build on it for the future.
A good learning platform can also save a well-managed school a lot of money and that, and other cost saving possibilities, made up the theme of Ray Fleming’s predictably popular running presentation – Top 10 Money Saving Tips – on the Microsoft Stand. It’s a pretty important subject, and Ray has some remarkable figures to support his thesis, so this is a topic I intend to write about here at greater length very shortly.
Meanwhile, back to the business of being knackered, one side effect of which is that you tend to flop down at intervals on the nearest stand in order to be fussed over by nice people. That’s how I came to visit my old friends at Tasc Software who come prepared with the makings of decent coffee. I was interested to see that they’ve now got their Insight product up and running on mobile devices. Insight feeds real-time MIS data from Capita’s SIMS in clear, attractive form to parents. If it’s there in the MIS – be it attendance, behaviour, merits and demerits, exam results, notices, reports, homework information – then with school co-operation, parents can read it on their phones. (They called it up on an iPhone for me.)
What I admire about Tasc, a relatively small and nimble outfit, is the way they work to keep ahead of the game at a time when so many suppliers, including the MIS businesses themselves, are working to improve the presentation of their data. They’re a dedicated bunch, and their collection of products is always worth looking at.
The verdict in the schools I visited then was that children like the way camera footage provides evidence of theft or wrongdoing. (One child, visiting another school, had her mobile pinched, and was outraged that the school didn’t have video evidence to catch whoever had done it.) Cautious teachers, for their part, were reassured by the careful way the material was monitored and handled. There were then also clear professional development possibilities in recorded lessons, and, on their Bett stand this year, Classwatch introduced me to their new partnership with RM’s “Uview” which builds strongly on that professional development aspect by using Classwatch footage together with an analysis tool so that tutors or mentors or peer observers can work together on the detail of a lesson that’s been recorded.
Time and again, though, I was reminded by thoughtful teachers and advisers just how important it is to look beyond the gadgets and gizmos in order to see where is the support for learning. A new kind of digital projector? 3D? Works without an interactive whiteboard? OK, how does it support learning? And, furthermore, are we using to the full what’s already on our network?
It’s a take on BETT, and on technology generally that was well summed up after the show by Steve Gillott, head of ICT at Wootton Bassett School, and no slouch when it comes to innovation. In a Twitter comment that says BETT for him, is, “…all big displays and touch interfaces. Schools need to start exploiting the technology they already have. CPD should be the priority.”
Gerald Haigh is an educator, freelance journalist writer, and expert on school management systems. He has a regular column focused on school capital projects like Building Schools for the Future on the National College's Future website.