Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Imagine Centre - Colchester

The Imagine Centre has just opened in Colchester United's football stadium. It is a space that Essex LA have built to try out a range of new learning technologies all in one space, so that schools can visit and see what works best for themselves. Imagine's Director Kate Holland has invited a visit from Portland to help us progress our vision of how we will ICT in the new Academy and we will take her up on that generous offer.

The Imagine Centre has some interesting features:
Can you see the spherical monitor?!! Then there is an interactive floor - similar to the one that the new Chesil school will have, it has a huge screen, but that can also show smaller images from other screens - as you can see, hopefully. At the back is a huge interactive table "surface".

To the left is tiered seating - a bit like the seating our headteachers visited in the New Line academy in Kent (see other photos below) and any laptop or personal device, including phones, will work within this space.

Rather cleverly, all the devices connect to each other - you might see that the globe on the wall is the same globe that is on the spherical monitor - both coming from the same child's computer.

Our lead sponsor was along for the opening, but we are looking forward to a group visit shortly.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Agile spaces

Our lead sponsor was fortunate to visit schools in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales where many are now working, teaching and learning in large agile multifaceted spaces with large student numbers, but teams of teachers too - these spaces are common in schools across Victoria too. Children work well together in teams, seem to be particularly effective when timetable blocks are longer and pay back the schools with self reliance, engagement and focus. When it is done right, these spaces are hugely efective.

In this picture a kindergarten group of 120 children were working with remarkably low levels of noise - they seemed to take the 20 teachers visiting with Professor Heppell comfortably in their stride without distraction. We have an open invitation to link in by Skype conferencing to chat to these visiting team of teachers about what they learned from this and other visits to effective teachers in these exciting new spaces.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

learning from Brockhill Park

A visit to the inspiring Brockhill Park Performing Arts College in Kent who are doing many of the things we will be featuring in our new Portland institution. Brockhill Park is improving rapidly - performance leapt when they introduced vertical groupings of students in mini-schools with their own leadership, very much like our planned Home Bases, and increasingly exploring Stage not Age learning. Brockhill Park is the country's leading Animal Science school - we too will be featuring a specialism in Science (Sports and Environmental Sciences) and have much to learn from their successful practice - we are even considering a farm ourselves. In this photo children in the school farm are busy managing the daily feeds of their animals, which range from iguanas to cattle - although many animals were away winning prizes at the Kent Show.

Like us, Brockhill Park  place considerable emphasis on Creativity and their walls show how this permeates everything they do, in maths, science, dance and more. The school places great emphasis on practical work and is a long way from the cells and bells factory schools of the last century. Last year their "not in employment education or training figures showed only 2 NEETS, which is uniquely successful. Their emphasis on activity - in their case every student does, and enjoys, dance (and many are now professional standard) coupled with a sizeable walk each day into the school itself means that there is not one obese child in the school. Our emphasis on recreational through to Olympic sport might share that aspiration too.

Brockhill Park is one of many successful and improving schools in the UK and abroad we will be sharing idea with, and learning from. Last night Prof Heppell led a professional development lecture with their staff as they too look forward to a new build school.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Not right (angled)

One last insight from Leigh Technology Academy was this:
so many of the schools we have seen that are leaping forwards in ambition and performance have a certain "wow factor" when you walk in - it is part of the self esteem growth that you always see in the students. A big part of that  "wow factor" comes from an absence of what the US calls "cells and bells" - the ld boxes of the factory school era.

Not only are the tiny boxes missing (Leigh Technology Academy teaches a lot of classes in groups of 60 in big spaces, but with three or sometimes four adults present) but one feature that stands out is the complete lack of right angles! It seems like a small thing in design terms but the impression it gives is of a series of interlinking agile spaces that are a very long way from boxes.

And watching the teaching and learning that results, reading the research too, it clearly works. Not that we will do everything we see and hear - but all these ideas do help to inform our Portland choices.

Human Scale

Being shown round the remarkable Leigh Technology Academy at Dartford today were headteachers from The Grove and Royal Manor Arts College who found much to confirm the directions we have taken with the new Portland institution.

Like others, and indeed like we will be, Leigh Technology Academy is subdivided into much smaller units. They call them Colleges - and these are very autonomous. They are schools in all but name, with their own heads and staff and a unique version of the overall uniform. We were shown round by two highly articulate young men, George and Josh - both head boys within their own Colleges (selected after a gruelling interview and presentation process!). Both told us so much that was useful - and had a pride in the whole institution that was quite remarkable, but well placed. They explained clearly how the smaller units led everyone to behave better, to be proud of their achievements, to support each other and it clearly lies at the heart of the amazing progress the whole institution is making. The colleges are mixed age, and in technology we heard confirmation of what George and Josh had told us: youngsters chase after the role models of older students who in turn respond so well, and work better, with the responsibility of helping the younger ones.

So many little surprises: we asked Josh about work experience - ah yes, he said, he'd done his in India. We asked if they did student lesson observations - yes they said, Ofsted have helped train us to know how to do them. In technology they were building Karts - how are they doing? we asked - to be told they were 4 od the nation's top 10. And so on. Amazing, but attainable. It really is all about ambition and detail. We only saw one item of litter - a can - but as soon as we saw it Josh picked it up and binned it. Pride indeed!

We took away a mass of those details - and they held onto one or two of our ideas too. This relationship with other successful institutions already a little way down the road we are following helps us to be clear about the decisions we make in developing our Portland institution. We caught up with Chief Executive Frank Green at the end of the tour - they have Ofsted tomorrow and he was relishing having them see the progress they had all made! Frank further helped us to understand the detailed processes that had worked so well for them before they got their new building.

So much detail to remember! But we will stay in touch with our friends at Leigh Technology Academy...

learning plazas

Second October visit for heads and governors of our participating schools was to New Line Academy in Maidstone. New Line have now begun their new building, but before they did they built a "learning Plaza" to explore large group teaching and then built another - with some extra help from Microsoft who were very interested in how effective these plazas were.

Once again a helpful and wonderfully articulate head told us so much about the journey they had enjoyed and what they had discovered on the way - including the effectiveness of these portable little seating tiers (which they call their bananas) which they designed but which were made in Dorset! Here we are sitting on them and having seen them in use with children it is remarkable how well they work at gaining the attention of a quite large group just by standing close up to them. But of course there is much more to New Line's new approach to learning than just bananas and they took us through the complexity of their whole process - every detail matters: these are shoe-off spaces for example, staff and children.

The school were very helpful too about the way that planning and organisation worked for a large triple-group of children who spend around half their timetabled lives in "their" plaza. The big story they had to report of course was about how their performance had improved and was still improving rapidly.

Learning from others

As we promised, we will be bringing the best ideas and "ingredients" for learning home to Portland to build our unique 'recipe" for learning, and that means seeing, sometimes, for ourselves what other like minded schools are doing. We learn from them.

Today heads and governors from our participating Portland schools visited the nearly-built (they move in in July 2010) St John's School in Gravesend. It was so encouraging to stand in an entirely corridor free school - and confirm just how much extra space it creates for learning, but also to stand inside the three separate  "Communities" where St John's children will spend most of their time - rather like out "home bases" or whatever we finally call them. And mixed age groupings are a big part of the learning evolution at St John's.

Best of all was to be able to hear headteacher A J Stanley and staff articulate their vision - and to hear how excited staff and children are about moving in. We were excited to see just how much space they had created with slightly less children than we have, but instead of feeling like a BIG school, the intimacy of their small communities, with their own learning spaces and children staying in them for much of the day really made it all feel very comfortingly human scale. Exactly what we are seeking.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Green Light

The official announcement from UK's DCSF - Whitehall's department for children, schools and their families, finally came through on the last day of term and we all headed for the Heights to celebrate - here we are!

In this picture (left to right) are:

  • Jim Knights MP our current MP - a great supporter - who is also 
  • Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform in theDepartment for Work and Pensions, as well as being Minister for the South West
  • Debbie Smith Chair of Governors at The Grove Infant & Foundation Stage School
  • Wayne Day - Chair of Governorss at Chesil Cove (Underhill Junior and Brackenbury Infants & Nursery School)
  • Zoe Green - who was then the Headteacher of Brackenbury - but is now retired
  • Paul Green (no relation) - Head of Royal Manor Arts College
  • Jane Fooks - who is the one person holding all the many strands of this project together (we all thank you Jane)
  • Alan McKechan - Then Headteacher of Underhill Junior School - now retired
  • Jane Hurdiss - Headteacher - The Grove
  • Janet Botterill - Then Chair of Governors at RMAC
  • Professor Stephen Heppell - lead sponsor of our academy

Sunday, 12 July 2009

We're off! Officially...

We got our official approval from DCSF on 12th July 2009 - an exciting
day for Portland. You can see some of the Government's press release
above - or read the whole thing from here.
In it, Ed Balls, current Secretary of State for Children, Schools and
Families, said:
"This is an exciting new step for Portland and the Academies
programme. The idea of an all ages Academy is a recent innovation –
the idea that an Academy could provide University places too is truly

Professor Heppell has a huge range of experience in educational
innovation, both in this country and internationally. He is committed
to improving education in Portland, and I believe that with the right
support his vision will be realised.

With the Olympic Sailing base to be situated in Portland, this is a
fitting Olympic legacy project for the island."