Over the last few weeks, the papers have been full of stories about school closures across the UK – naturally so, as half of all schools were shut down for at least a day by snow and ice. And it’s given impetus to the important issue of how a school that has to close can keep its children working, in contact with each other and with their teachers? Can they keep the learning going?

The answer, surely, lies in the use of a good learning platform (and some were quick to point out that it was the ideal time to switch to virtual learning using the learning platforms that the majority of schools have in place). Not all schools, though, are equally up to speed with their anytime/anywhere learning strategies. So I think what’s important is that there’s a pooling of experience by schools that have at least made steps towards keeping their students on task. It’s in that spirit that our friends at the 1,600 student Twynham School in Christchurch, Dorset, are sharing their experience of a one-day snow closure earlier this term.

Twynham has long used SharePoint as a support for learning, and since 2006 has been using, and constantly developing, its own learning platform – the Twynham Learning Gateway – using to the full the features of SharePoint 2007.

Assistant Head Mike Herrity and his team spoke about their SharePoint Learning Platform on our stand at BETT. He described particularly the snow day experience, and he’s written his own document for use within the school, and been kind enough to share it with me. These are his key points.

Mike starts by setting the scene:

On Tuesday 5th January a notice was sent to all students during tutor time and the last lesson of the day when it became clear poor weather was likely…our commitment was to make a decision and post a notice by 7 am on the website

The website, says Mike, was to be the definitive place for information. Radio, he points out, isn’t always reliable and prompt because of the sheer number of schools involved. Text messaging is fine -- but only if the list of numbers is complete and up to date. Twynham’s research, though, shows that broadband availability in the school’s community is nearly at 100percent

Mike’s figures show that as the weather deteriorated, hits on the website climbed from its normal 3,000 daily hits eventually up to 21,000 on the day of closure itself, which was Thursday 7th January.

The website notice reminded students and parents that the Twynham Learning Gateway would remain available for study support during closure, and the real story, for my money, is how remarkably well that worked. On average says Mike, the Gateway sees about 900 logins per day, in school time, on school computers. On the snow day, with school closed, and therefore no school computers in use, there were no fewer than 774 logins. As Mike says:

This is an astonishing 86% of the average logins on a normal school day. What is clear is that students see the Learning Gateway as an integral part of their learning

That last sentence says it all. Once a school’s Learning Gateway is “an integral part of their learning”, they can surely claim to be using technology to transform the way that their students engage with their work.

You can see more about Twynham’s strategy in our ’Engaging with Parents’ case studies, which includes the stories of 5 schools, and looks beyond what they are doing to also at look at how they have done it.

Here’s the introduction video for Twynham:

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Click here to follow the link if you can’t see the video above

One of the great things about Twynham School is that Mike Herrity doesn’t ever seem to stop sharing his experiences, and the what/how/why of their work, on his SharePoint in Education blog. I’m sure more details of the Snow Closure experience is just around the corner!