An interactive education

Christopher Little, ICT Manager, Enterprise South Liverpool Academy talks about the school’s latest IT developments

Tell us a bit about Enterprise South Liverpool Academy (ESLA)?

“Enterprise South Liverpool Academy, more commonly known as ESLA, is a Christian Academy, joint Catholic and Church of England, located in Garston, Liverpool.  We are a co-educational school from years 7 to 11 including a sixth form.

“ESLA officially became an academy in 2010 due the closure of two other schools in the area. As part of that we were very fortunate to be one of the last Building Schools for the Future programme (BSF) schools (a huge investment programme by the government into secondary schools buildings in the 2000’s).

“We moved into our current £23.4m building in February 2013, with state-of-the-art facilities to cater for our 1,100 pupils and staff.”

You have a developed a ‘mobile learning’ strategy for the school – what does this mean?

“We had very little in the way of a mobile strategy of any kind in our previous incarnation as two old 1950’s school. With ageing buildings and aging IT, our wireless network was practically non-existent. It was all a bit patchy with a couple of wireless access points, but we were very desktop-centric back then so it didn’t really matter.

“As we evolved our vision for mobile working, driven by our principal who supported the concept, we decided to move away from fixed computers and desktops towards a more independent way of working. We decided on a laptop-driven approach – purchasing 480 HP laptops installed into intelligent laptop banks with built-in biometrics.”

How important is it for the students to be able to learn like this?

“For someone like a sixth former or year 11 student who doesn’t have structured classes, it’s easy to just get a laptop out and work completely independently. Groups of students can also work in open areas around classrooms as part of their classwork if needed – still connected, but working independently and with their own resources.  

“It’s not just students who benefit from mobile working; every member of staff also has a laptop, which they can use to dock into an interactive whiteboard, for example, and use how they want as part of their class activity. 

“Both staff and students have access to the school’s virtual learning environment (VLE) Moodle where they can upload and access materials and resources.”

How are you enabling mobile working?

“Our mobile working vision is fully dependent on the technology – and especially the WiFi provided by Meru Networks and installed by our IT company Capita.

“Initially, we were worried that any network would not stand up to the demands we would place on it when it was first put in. But the Meru WiFi is extremely robust and even with 400 students on it simultaneously or whole classes streaming YouTube clips, it is not even breaking a sweat!

“Having come from virtually no wireless to this has been something of a revelation.”

What other plans do you have for the technology?

“We’ve introduced iPads as well as Mac laptops, plus a number of Android tablets for ICT classes where pupils are using them for app development. We’re also using Apple TVs for sports classes and will look to roll these out further.

“Plus, part of our ethos as an academy is to work closely with the local community and to offer our facilities, such as the library and sports facilities, to local people, organisations and businesses to use – and the Wi-Fi is very much a part of this.”

How important is mobile learning to the future of the school?

“Our vision a few years ago was to develop a mobile way of working that reflected the impressive building we had just moved into. I think we are well on the way to achieving that.

“Technology has proven to be a great leveller helping create equal opportunities for students, regardless of their abilities or strengths.  I think it’s not just important but fundamental to the way educate today and in the future.