Collaboration Is the Heart of Improvement: Benhurst Primary School (London Borough of Havering)

When Ofsted evaluated Benhurst Primary School as “requiring improvement” in 2012, it was widely recognized that the school needed a change of direction.

Head teacher David Denchfield and the leadership team began work in 2013 to bring forward a new plan – a clear vision that would raise standards but also embrace their diverse learning community, awaken the passions and interests of children and create learning with a sense of fun. “In 2013, Benhurst did not have a sufficiently adequate ICT provision which enhanced the quality of teaching and move learning forward. We developed a three-year vision for our school to ensure we maximized every opportunity for our children and staff,” outlined Mr. Denchfield.

 

What are the top priorities for Benhurst?

  • Enhanced, extended cross-curricular learning for sustained, accelerated progress
  • A wide range of technologies embedded in classrooms, both new and established
  • High quality skills-based curriculum to ensure success for all
  • Relevant ICT knowledge imparted for life skills, including computing and coding skills
  • Responsible users of ICT, in particular the Internet
  • Continued high quality staff CPD
  • Fun, engaging and inclusive learning!

Central to the vision was an “open door” culture to provide parents with a greater understanding of their child’s education. They wanted to better engage learners and cultivate a deeper trust in the activities at school – a true learning community.

“We redesigned and launched the school website which provides relevant and up-to-date information for our children, parents and wider community. In April 2014, Benhurst started a Twitter account to showcase our children’s excellent work and provide an informal method of communicating with our stakeholders. Last month, we also opened a You Tube account which we use to demonstrate key mathematical strategies. This has proved very popular and we plan to develop this further this year and introduce new subjects to support our parents and children at home.”
– David Denchfield

The school’s culture is now more collaborative, where children take greater ownership over their learning, with the focus on facilitating cross-curricular, question-based learning – working towards individual goals within the framework of the National Curriculum.

The focus of the ICT program is aligned to the new school philosophy. They employ a mix front of room technology (interactive projectors) and a school supply of 32 iPads. There are also six laptops per classroom dedicated for children’s use and the school also recently implemented Google Apps for Education.

Teacher Stella McCarthy agreed to pilot SMART amp software which leverages Google Cloud Services and empowers pupils to collaborate with devices in self-directed, peer-collaborative spaces. Early lessons during the pilot have focused on brainstorms, collaborative writing and validating statements with child-friendly research resources at the ready.

What did Stella discover?

  • Collaborative learning encourages social networks and reduces device-olation. “It is really difficult to share with others on paper and this collaborative tool enabled pupils to incorporate everyone’s input on the questions. They had their arms around each other’s shoulders and were keenly interested in reading each other’s comments.”
  • Easy for teachers to learn. “SMART amp is really easy to learn with PDFs and a few videos. We also had a half hour demo. It was very intuitive for me and also for the students.” Stella’s tip is to “watch videos, read up and just play.” Then think of the outcomes of using this tool with your pupils. “What do I want them to achieve and what resources would they need?”
  • Parent extension possibilities. Benhurst is considering the use of SMART amp out of school and extending its usage beyond classroom time. “To do so, we will need to prepare parents to support learners in using SMART amp for homework. It has the potential to dovetail the work of the school at home.”
  • Facilitating greater student ownership of learning. “I take a step back from passing on information, give them the tools for self-directed discovery, feeding each other’s ideas and then bringing it back together. It gives me the freedom to interact more with individuals as I go around and discuss their learning.”

And what did the Year 3 children in Stella’s class think?

“I like SMART amp because you can read other people’s thoughts and they can help you improve your learning. Also, you can lock what you wrote so no one can move it.” -Katya

“It helped me to learn about history. I like SMART amp because you get to learn more. You can look at other people’s work, to help you. It is good fun!” -Sonny

“SMART amp is really good because you can watch videos and link to websites to give you information about your learning. You can type information and put it on the page and everyone adds to the page at the same time. At the end there is a quiz and it checks what you have learned.” -Jasmine

“SMART amp is fun, we got to learn how to use it and everyone got to have a go. You can share an iPad, the teacher can put it so she controls the children’s iPads or she can put children in charge.” -Kayla

“It is very fun to use instead of [regular] writing. I like SMART amp because it helps me learn.” -Alamin

“I think SMART amp is so amazing and it could boost me up a level in learning.” -Scarlet

“SMART amp can help you with your Maths, English, Topic and Science. Really fun to learn on.” -Samuel

“If we worked on SMART amp all the time I would even come to school on Saturday and Sunday.” -James

 

Headteacher David Denchfield also recommends educators trying out SMART amp. “This is an excellent piece of software which provides a simple platform for all children to contribute to lessons in a fun and engaging way. The children have thoroughly enjoyed using SMART amp and I would thoroughly recommend to colleagues in all educational settings.”

A willingness to try new things at Benhurst Primary is yielding results – both at the school culture level and how they are approaching ICT. The school is already attracting higher-quality teaching candidates and the children have recently achieved well above national average for both KS1 and KS2. Ofsted has listed the school in the category of most improving. Benhurst’s goal is to be “outstanding” – not only for Ofsted, but in the eyes of all the school’s children.

We have more to share about Benhurst Primary and Stella McCarthy’s class in 2015 – stay tuned!

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Sarah Richards
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About Sarah Richards

Sarah Richards is a Brand Strategist at SMART, on a mission to bring students together and empower educators through technology. Sarah works from Vancouver, Canada.

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