Six years ago, Hayward School on the outskirts of Manchester in the UK was considered a failing high school. A new principal arrived with a new vision, new leadership team and an expectation that every child can learn and succeed. It was turned into an Academy, renamed Essa and today it is lauded as a school with a 90 percent pass rate.
Last week, one of its directors, Abdul Chohan was in Parramatta to share Essa’s learnings. Reflecting on Essa’s learning journey, Chohan said that changing beliefs led to changing behaviours. Starting with a clear vision, they began encouraging and resourcing teachers who were willing to try new approaches. These teachers were asked to find another teacher in the school who could try out the idea and if it worked, they brought it forward to the wider community. This approach to building critical mass had the advantage of teachers leading the change and the professional learning.
Not surprising, the Academy operates within an anywhere, anytime, anything learning environment. However, Chohan is quick to point out that Essa has no technology plan only a learning plan. The talk is always on the pedagogy and the tools are in place to enable and deepen the learning. One of the big lessons for Essa was the move away from learning management systems (LMS) and virtual learning environments (VLE) to an iOS platform. Simplicity and reliability are the criteria because it allows teachers to maintain a relentless focus on the learning not the tools.
All students have an iPad and the Academy uses iTunes U (the largest repository for educational material in the world) for teaching and Showbie (app for assessment and feedback) for learning. Using the Open University model as a framework for delivering engaging content, the Academy’s teachers work together to plan, develop and assess coursework. Chohan mentioned that they now have students demonstrating their learning by creating course content for iTunes U!
Sharing learning is deeply embedded in the vision of Essa Academy: All Will Succeed. The Academy’s vision underpins everything they do and is inclusive of everyone. It is a great example of one school sharing its experiences and learning so that other schools and students can also succeed.