Being a Student Digital Leader

Chelsea is a student digital leader at Norwich High School. In a short break, I asked her how she got involved in the programme, and what it had meant for her own digital development.

“I’ve been involved for two years.” she told me. “Our school, at the time I started, didn’t have much of a digital presence. We didn’t have a GCSE on timetable, so we organised one ourselves as an after-school club on Fridays for an hour each week. But we still got great results, with over 90 per cnet A/A* in our year. There wasn’t an A level offering, it was all quite hard, and we needed to get the digital leaders and technology a bigger presence.

“I’m not sure if it was us that had the impact, but the picture has improved a lot now. All students have a 1:1 device, a mixture of laptops and iPads, and we have a GCSE in Computing. We also have an A level, which may be because we lobbied a lot — there are three of us in the class — and also GCSE numbers are on the up. Which is great, because it is such an important subject.”

“I’ve loved the subject ever since I was young, in the juniors, playing Crystal Rainforest, and making 'turtle drawings', and using Lego Robots. Then we came into senior school, and it wasn’t as much fun, doing ICT with spreadsheets and stuff.

"It was OK, and useful, but wasn’t what I wanted to do. So I did coding in a lunchtime, where we had one teacher who offered a coding club, which we started with Scratch. That was quite late as we should really have had that in junior school, and then we went on to Python.

'I realised this was what I wanted to do — coding!'

"We had to do a Python project for GCSE, which meant learning it as we did the project. Not ideal, but we did it and I really enjoyed it. It involved a lot of persevering, and I realised that this was what I wanted to do, I wanted to code! I enjoy creating things that will make a difference, and technology is such a big and important sector in the world, it is changing so rapidly and I want to be a part of it.

“Two of us went as lead digital leaders to the BETT show recently, to try and find resources to help the younger digital leaders learn to code. There were really no other kids there. I know it’s for teachers really, but kids are the ones who are going to know what they need. And then I got some work experience.

“The school have been incredibly supportive. When they knew I wanted to code they fixed up some work experience for me at Naked Element, a local solutions developer that uses the Agile approach. I really enjoyed it, and since then they offered me some paid work, so I went back and did more coding during the school holidays.

"I really want to study coding at university, and have thought about Oxford. I also considered going to the US, but the courses there were way too expensive, so I am now also looking at Canada, and quite fancy Toronto.”

With that Chelsea was back to supervising the younger team members. Leaving a strong impression that the future of Computing is safe in their hands, as long as there are a few more like Chelsea getting involved in the student digital leaders movement. And, looking round the room, I believe there are!

Tony ParkinTony Parkin, former head of ICT development at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (The Schools Network) and now an independent consultant, describes himself as a 'disruptive nostalgist'. He can be contacted on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.or on Twitter via @tonyparkin  

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History of Student Digital Leaders

Student digital leaders first came to the UK some ten years ago. Two UK teachers, Daniel Stucke and Kristian Still, saw a similar scheme in the US and thought they would try it in their own schools. They presented the results at an SSAT National Conference which inspired other schools to follow suit.

Models for Student Digital Leaders schemes vary from school to school, but the core model remains the same. A team of students is selected, sometimes competitively by application, on their aptitude towards using digital technologies. They then undertake a number of activities revolving around peer mentoring, technical support and teacher training and support.

Though offered some support over the years, initially by SSAT and Toshiba, and latterly by, the digital leaders scheme has remained a grassroots movement largely driven by committed teachers on a regional basis. Notable pioneers have included Mark Anderson in secondary schools in the south west, Sheli Blackburn in primary schools in Norfolk, Chris Sharples up in Yorkshire and 'Hwb' schools in Wales. Local groups of student digital leaders occur elsewhere, eg Haringey and Redbridge, but there is now little apparent co-ordination of the disparate groups.

The Girls Day School Trust observed some of their member schools had adopted student digital leaders programmes, so organised their first conference some three years ago. This year 22 schools took part in the now annual competitive event.

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