Woodlawn School was the star of the prestigious Northern Grid for Learning Awards when it scooped three categories: Secondary Computer Graphics and Art, Secondary Creative Digital Media and the coveted Overall Excellence in ICT.
"Woodlawn is probably the only school that I have been to where technology is ‘just there’, where it’s the norm for everyone and is used when it is the right and most effective tool - it’s simply not a big deal," said Carol Allen, school improvement adviser for ICT and inclusion in North Tyneside. "But the use of video by students and staff for the collection of evidence to assess, reflect, evaluate, celebrate and share is a very big deal indeed for good practice.
“The Northern Grid has always supported and recognised the outstanding use of ICT in special schools but it expects them to enter on a level playing field. That’s why I am delighted to see Woodlawn [a special school in West Monkseaton, North Tyneside] pick up three awards including the top ‘Overall Excellence in ICT, and, of course, Evergreen School in Durham, which picked up two."
North Tyneside was particularly successful in the 2011 awards, picking up 15 'winners' and 'highly commendeds' from nearly 30, prompting this response from the local authority's school improvement officer for ICT, Jonathan Chicken: "In North Tyneside we are tremendously proud of our schools. Today we have taken 15 awards and It reflects the work that our ICT team has done in promoting technology across our schools, and the work our schools have done in embedding ICT across the curriculum and North Tyneside's commitment to use technology to improve the life chances of learners."
Significantly, North Tyneside is one of the few LAs in the region which has been able to protect its ICT support staff from the swingeing cuts which have created havoc to similar services elsewhere.
'The best examples of pupils using the latest technology for exciting learning'
The Northern Grid Awards recognise and celebrate the best examples of pupils using the latest technology for exciting learning opportunities. Young people and their teachers from primary, secondary and special schools in the region attended the awards ceremony at the Gosforth Park Marriot.conference centre. The atmosphere was alive to the cheers of whoops of typical awards ceremonies, and the accompanying exhibition of children's work showed why.
Visitors were given opportunities to meet teachers and pupils and to share in their exciting projects. They ranged from inspiring story-telling based on CSI-style school investigations, to the studio-based TV reporters and presenters found in local secondary schools, like Harton Technology College and Norham Community College, which have built up impressive reputations for media work. For the awards, pupils as young as four years old showed how they created stop-frame animations in the style of Wallace and Gromit while older pupils presented the films they had scripted, acted in and produced. Kilton Thorpe School worked with local writers, actors and film-makers to produce the imaginative and thought provoking Zombie Bullies.
There was plenty of evidence of schools bridging the gap between schools and their communities by using internet services to share the children's work. And collaboration was evident everywhere. At Norham Community Technology College pupils with autism, for example, used online tools to ensure that those who were once isolated are now talking together in class and keeping in touch while they are at home.
Great teaching was at the heart of the awards, and four exceptional teachers were presented with Teacher Awards:
- Claire Hayden from Norham Community Technology College, North Tyneside;
- Myris Groom from St Aloysius Infants, South Tyneside;
- Nicola Padgett from Normanby Primary School, Redcar and Cleveland;
- Stephen Ainsley from Harton Technology College, South Tyneside.
The commitment of staff often went way beyond expectations. Take Myris Groom for example. Her job title is 'network leader' but her influence on learning at St Aloysius Infantshas been profound. With support from her local City Learning Centre she has brought in animation, video work and LEGO to enrich learning experiences. Even at the awards ceremony she was enthusing about her next initiative - to bring in creative programming activities through the introduction of the open-source program Scratch.
Myris' school was runner-up for the top 'Overall Excellence in ICT' award. 'Highly commended' in this category, Harton Technology College, also in South Tyneside, had demonstrated excellent learning spaces designed for 21st learning with ICT. Forget the carping of the politicians and the political point scoring over the Building Schools for the Future programme, developments at Harton exemplify some of the best work being done in BSF and show the lengths teachers, school leaders and their communities have been going to in order to engage their students and improve their learning.
The adoption of video for all aspects of reflective practice was also a strong feature at Harton. The judges saw video used very effectively in the gymnasium for reflecting on and developing performance, and outstandingly in the media facility where students use news reporting activities to enrich both curriculum work and school communications. Regular news broadcasts of a high quality are produced to deadline. This has already enhanced the school's reputation and students have presented at major public events including the Northern Grid for Learning Conference.
Images from Harton's recent fashion show were unforgettable
Seeing the students' work displayed on large plasma screens in their new learning spaces demonstrated the power of students' own work for school communications and celebrations of success. And images from the school's recent fashion show were unforgettable.
Also worth mentioning was the appropriate use of ICT in the school's design and technology department where it helped to keep the focus closely on creativity and design, and was producing both an infectiously exciting atmosphere as well as very impressive students' work.
As winner of the Overall Excellence Award, Woodlawn was recognised as a school where creative use of technology, from simple record-and-play devices to cutting-edge gaming technologies, is being used effectively by all members of staff. Woodlawn showed a depth of embedding of ICT which meant it is used naturally and appropriately. The level of personalisation required at this school for some 80 learners with special needs, aged from two and a half to 18 years, is extremely high, and ICT is used with great flexibility and creativity to achieve this.
It was clear to the judges that this had been instigated and fully supported by the school leadership, and that this movement has now become grass roots. This was demonstrated by the extremely high level of teacher reflection and sharing, and was most impressive in the adoption of video technology as a tool for reflective practice for both teachers and learners. It was clear that this was developing day by day and that teachers were so enthusiastic that new practices were shared as soon as they emerged, making developments happen more rapidly.
Lewis Bronze, chief executive of Espresso Education, which sponsored the award, concluded: "This school really lives up to its role as a Specialist School for Communication and Interaction. The use of ICT is absolutely integrated into both curriculum and everyday use and this achievement, along with the excellent communications between the leadership team and staff, and among all staff generallymeans that Woodlawn School should be the overall winning school."
The Northern Grid’s Annual Awards are a significant mechanism for celebrating and sharing schools' achievements. They demonstrate the wisdom in ensuring that schools' connection to broadband networks should done in the context of supporting teaching and learning and sharing good practice rather than relying on a slavish belief in 'market forces' that brought the Coalition Government and its advisers dangerously close to damaging English schools' broadband services. At a time of cost-cutting they very nearly drove up schools' broadband bills and threatened services to rural schools.
The final word at the awards went to Northern Grid for Learning manager Mel Phillipson who thanked the sponsors and organisers and added: The most important thank-you, the biggest thank-you, is to everyone here and our fabulous teachers. We have had four outstanding teachers' prizes here today, but every teacher of every school here today is outstanding - if you weren't you wouldn't be here.
"Teachers and heads and governors and schools who have enetered the categories, you do fantastic work. You represent our region really, really well, and without your hard work and dedication none of this would be happening. And the pupils and students that you are working with are really benefitting from the dedication that you give to them. But most of all I would like to thank the pupils and students. Because without their hard work and their creativity, innovation and excitement we wouldn't have this great event here today."
Further information about the awards can be found on the Northern Grid for Learning website, and compere Russell Prue is also broadcasting both the awards and the Northern Grid for Learning Conference from his Anderton Tiger radio service (he will also be the radio media partner at the BETT 2012 show).
The Successful Schools
Animations (primary): winner Grange Primary School, Hartlepool.
Animations (secondary): winner Marden Bridge Middle School, North Tyneside; highly commended Sir Charles Parsons School and Science College, Newcastle.
Collaboration Through Technology (primary): winner, St Peters C of E and Kilton Thorpe Special School, Redcar and Cleveland.
Collaboration Through Technology (secondary): winner Norham Community Technology College, North Tyneside.
Computer Graphics and Art (primary): winner Grange Primary School, Hartlepool; highly commended Evergreen Primary, Durham.
Computer Graphics and Art (secondary): Winner Woodlawn School, North Tyneside.
Creative Digital Media (primary): winner Longbenton and Marden CLCs. North Tyneside; highly commended Rosa Street Primary School, Durham.
Creative Digital Media (secondary): winner Woodlawn School, North Tyneside; highly commended Norham Community Technology College, North Tyneside.
Embedding Learning Platforms: winner Moorside Community Technology College, Durham.
ICT in a Subject (primary): winner Cullercoats Primary School, North Tyneside; highly commended Dormanstown Primary School, Redcar and Cleveland.
Personalisation (primary): winner Cullercoats Primary School, North Tyneside; highly commended Collingwood Primary School and King Edwards Primary School, North Tyneside.
Promotion of the Region (primary): winner Firthmoor Primary, Darlington; highly commended Highcliffe Primary School, Redcar and Cleveland.
Promotion of the Region (secondary): winner Valley Gardens Middle School, North Tyneside.
PSHE including E-Safety (primary): winner Kingsley Primary School, Winner Hartlepool.
PSHE including E-Safety (secondary): winner Redcar & Cleveland B.C, Redcar and Cleveland.
Surprise Me! (primary): winner Stephenson Memorial Primary School, North Tyneside; highly commended Spring Gardens, North Tyneside, and Evergreen Primary School, Durham
Surprise Me! (secondary): winner Kilton Thorpe, Redcar and Cleveland; highly commended Seaton Burn Business and Enterprise College, North Tyneside.
Teacher awards: Myris Groom, St Aloysius Infants, South Tyneside; Nicola Padgett, Normanby Primary School, Redcar and Cleveland; Claire Hayden, Norham Community Technology College, North Tyneside; Stephen Ainsley, Harton Technology College, South Tyneside.
Overall Excellence in ICT: winner Woodlawn School, North Tyneside; highly commended Harton Technology College, South Tyneside; runner-up St Aloysius Infants, South Tyneside.