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Coding in the real world

BETT speaker profile: Kirsty Tonks, e-learning and teaching school director, Shireland Collegiate Academy

Shireland has had a reputation for teaching technology for over 10 years now and is dedicated to using technology for school improvement and raising standards; not only in terms of teaching and learning, but also for underpinning a number of school processes. About a year ago, we became a Teaching School and as such, we were approached to support primary schools with the National Curriculum. When we spoke to some of our neighbouring primary schools that we have relationships with, there was one common thing that worried them all – the new Computing Curriculum. We felt we were really well placed to help these schools address their concerns, giving them support, guidance and the level of expertise that they needed.

The first of our support programmes was rolled out at the end of the spring term, which consisted of eight afternoon sessions where we looked at a range of solutions, software and some of the off-the-shelf options available for computing support. One such solution was Rising Stars’ ‘Switched on Computing’ programme and we thought this would be a great place to start, so we asked them to come and support one of our sessions and talk about how the scheme works. Across the eight sessions we also arranged visits from Microsoft, who led a session on Kodu, Codecademy and also Espresso, another leading digital curriculum provider.

Some of the questions that we set out to answer in the first session were ‘what is your school context?’ and ‘what resources do you have available?’ We were surprised by the vast differences in resources and provision available from one school to another just within our local area. Some schools had almost 1:1 access to devices in Key Stage 2 and had a full-time technician, whereas other schools had a technician who came to the school for half a day every fortnight and had 15 laptops (seven of which were broken) and five or six PCs across the whole school. What we had to reflect on was that all of these schools, whether they found themselves in the former or latter situation, had to deliver the exact same computing curriculum and we needed to support all of them, whatever their context or starting point.

We thought to ourselves: how do we get both of these types of schools and all of the others in between to feel confident in delivering this new curriculum? What do we need to teach the staff? Will there be any additional funding needed that schools need to take account of?

For the final session, we chose to invite the team at education technology charity, Apps for Good, to come and do a talk with the school about how its programme can help gifted and talented pupils in primary schools and in particular, how we had implemented it at Shireland. This meant that we could talk about our own experiences and offer advice on a school-to-school basis, as well as encouraging insight from outside companies, which enabled the school to come up with their own computing plan to suit their individual needs.

The feedback we have had on our school-to-school support approach has been incredible. It has been so successful that we are now going to do a follow-up programme that looks at how to support schools with their hardware needs, as we had previously focussed more on software.

Throughout this programme, we noticed that a lot of schools don’t want to be left alone to teach computing just yet; they have been so overwhelmed by the change to the new curriculum as a whole that computing has not always been their top priority. What we are trying to do at Shireland is provide the schools with a toolkit, whereby they can pick and choose the solutions and resources they feel best suit their current situation and requirements. Every school is different, so it’s important that we take an individualised and personalised approach.

Kirsty will be speaking in the Schools Learn Live: Primary Theatre on Wednesday 21 January at 12:30. Her session is titled: “Coding in the real world – Lessons learned developing an approach to computing with 25 schools.”