Guest post from Gerald Haigh. Gerald writes regularly for the Microsoft Education Blogs.

Some weeks ago, I reported on a visit I’d made to Barnsley Academy for the launch of their ‘Windows phone in school’ project, a partnership of Microsoft, phone supplier HTC, Barnsley Academy itself and United Learning Trust (ULT).

We’ll be reporting on the project again as it gathers momentum in the new term, but a brief catch up before the Summer Holidays with Patrick Taylor, the teacher who’s driving the project, was very encouraging. As we talked, it became clear that the Windows phones have arrived at Barnsley Academy at just the right moment to build on what’s been a year of change in the school’s approach to both ICT and computing.

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Patrick came to the school as a newly qualified teacher in September 2011from systems management in industry. From the start, he was determined to ensure that young people would be better prepared for what lay in store out there in the world.

‘I realised that the skills we were equipping our learners with were far from adequate,’ he says. ‘And so my first task was to re-design the ICT curriculum at Key stage 3.’

That, as he says, was just the start. In fact, the year has seen the development of a multi-point strategy designed to raise motivation and achievement in KS3, ultimately giving students a better start for their ICT and computing in KS4. One expected result will be a greater take up for, and better results in, computer studies at exam level.

It’s very much a radical change, and what’s significant is the degree to which Microsoft products and services are playing their part. In KS3, students have really enjoyed using creative tools from Microsoft Dreamspark ( www.Dreamspark.com ) and Kodu (http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/projects/kodu/) ,and what’s equally important is the way their enthusiasm has improved the confidence of members of staff who were doubtful of the changes and concerned about their own skills.

‘Behaviour management is easier, and students are better engaged,’ says Patrick.

That’s by no means all on the Microsoft front. Next academic year will see Year Eight students attempting the Microsoft Digital Literacy qualification – Basic, Standard or Advanced according to their ability

‘This qualification will allow our learners to complete the GCSE ICT qualification more effectively and hopefully yield better results,’ says Patrick.

At Year Nine, students face the choice of either the computer science or the ICT route, and in order to help with this, Patrick’s department ran, in the Summer term, a five lesson ‘no strings’ taster course covering mobile app design, with resources drawn from the Microsoft Technology Associate materials. The hope was that high ability science and maths students would be tempted towards computer science in Year Ten. This seems to have borne fruit, for 28 students have signed up for computer science next year.

That, then, is the background into which the HTC Windows phones were launched, and they’ve made an impact already.

‘We’ve experimented with ‘Touch Develop’, Microsoft’s tool for creating apps directly on the Windows phone,’ says Patrick. and we feel we can get every class in Year Nine using it, so it’s written into the scheme of work, starting in the second week back in September.’ (www.touchdevelop.com )

Meanwhile, according to Vice Principal Mark Aveyard, the phones have been winning friends among senior staff. ‘It far outperforms the iPhone,’ he says. The functionality and usability of the operating system makes day to day use easier.’

As Patrick says,

‘This is a great move forward in regard to senior management embracing these phones into their management activities.’

So, already, at the end of the school year, only two months on from the HTC Windows phones coming out of their boxes, Barnsley Academy is now poised to do some really ground breaking work with and around them and there’s going to be lots to report, especially on the detail how the phones are embedded into the computing curriculum.