I have been lucky enough to visit lots of schools in my time working in education ICT. And I have often found that within a few minutes of walking in the door, you can quickly decide whether it is a "good" school or not. The benchmark for me has always been "Would I like my children to go here?"
Yesterday, I went to visit a school in Nottingham (for those reading this outside of our sunny UK shores, that's in the middle of England, and coincidentally my birthplace) called Long Eaton School. The visit was to hear about, and discuss, how they were using technology in the school, and what drives them to prioritise the use of ICT across the school. I already knew that their development plan was to invest something like five times the national secondary school average on ICT, in order to provide widespread provision for all of their pupils. But as I arrived, it was the small things that started to make an immediate impression. And also supporting the environmental agenda by becoming the first school in the East Midlands to get "eco school" status.
When we drove into the car park, there was a parking space (normally you end up on a verge, because there are always more cars than spaces, and the visitor spots have always gone). There was a special parking area for students (and clearly some of the students had shinier cars than staff & visitors!). The bike racks were the biggest and fullest I'd ever seen (turned out that they had the highest % of students cycling to school in the country). And the school reception had two comfortable sofas for visitors. It turns out that the school was newly built, and opened last year, but it was not simply a case of pouring an old school into new buildings. Everybody we met had a positive persona, and a very "can do" attitude.
Technologically, what they have is amazing - over 400 computers, with every single desktop and most laptops running Windows Vista and Office 2007. A SharePoint 2007 server, which they will use to deliver e-learning, provide links pupils to access resources from outside of school, and for parents to be able to see information on their children (like checking the portal to see that they've turned up at school this morning). All made possible by Alan Richards, the network manager, and his team.
Richard Vasey, the head teacher, was passionate about his school, and like most heads was enthusiastic about the future that they were going to make for their students. We talked about achievement, examinations and learning. For a school in a disadvantaged area, their 'value added' achievement is great - ensuring that the improvement in pupils' abilities is in the top 100 secondary schools in the country. And so, all of those reasons made me think that if I lived in the area, this would be the school where my children would go. But what I remembered really clearly was Richard's statement that no matter what the student's ability "if they will come to school, I'll guarantee that they'll get 5 A-G grades at GCSE". I've never heard other heads talking about an education guarantee before, but it made me realise that they have high expectations of all of their students - and therefore of their staff.
I'll write more about their technology in the future, but for now, maybe take a look at their website for a flavour of the school.
I'll start with a proviso on this - I don't know if Long Eaton were the first school to do a widespread