Leapfrogging to the top, thanks to Frog
Charles F Moreira
Speaking at the Champion School Conference 2012, Billy Downie, head teacher at The Streely Academy said that Frog VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) helped his school rise from the bottom 1% of U.K. schools for student progress in 2003 to the top 5% in 2012.
The Streetly Academy is a state secondary school in Sutton Coldfield, an affluent middle-class suburb of Birmingham, West Midlands and its 1,400 students comprise a mix of 60% from mostly affluent households and 30% from least affluent households, as required by government
Behaviour at the school was bad, its reputation poor, few parents wanted to send their children there and it had five different head teachers on five years, and In 2005, the U.K. Office for Standards in Education (Ofstead) had rated Streetly as unsatisfactory.
Downie became head teacher there in 2010. When he joined, Streetly was still a comprehensive school within the U.K. system and one of the first things he did was to implement Frog VLE which greatly helped to facilitate the school’s improvement efforts which drew upon the an experience from sports.
“We drew upon the strategy adopted by U.K. Sport to raise the U.K.’s ranking in terms of Olympic gold medals won in the recent Olympic Games in London,” said Downie. “As a result, the U.K. exceeded its target and came third after the U.S. and China, overtaking Russia which came fourth. The U.K. had originally aimed for fourth place.
Established in 1997, U.K. Sport is that nation’s high performance sports agency responsible for investing over £100 million per year in Britain’s best Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
The strategy was based upon an aggregate of marginal improvements in everything we do and that every small step forward in any area adds to overall improvement and in athletics it addresses three dimensions – i.e. the athlete and his or her physical, mental and other conditions; the system including facilities, training and support; and the climate – i.e. culture, ethos, encouragement, inspiration and so on.
“For example, when U.K. Sport visited China it saw hundreds of its badminton players inside a huge warehouse sized building with hundreds of badminton courts and the players were practising just the serving stroke repeatedly,” said Downie.
“Also, on the wall were two plaques, one extolling athletes and the other extolling the facility’s support staff, including the cooks and cleaners, which shows how an athlete’s success is due to improvements and excellence in all these areas,” Downie added.
The 3Ds of education
In education, the three dimensions are the student; the system – i.e. staff, structure and facilities; and climate – i.e. culture & ethos.
“At Streetly, everyone including the gardener and dining hall staff are important. For example, during the Queen’s 60th Jubilee celebrations, the gardener planted rows of red, while and purple flowers to represent our national colours. He didn’t have any blue flowers, so chose purple instead and irrespective it was a small contribution to the Streetly’s whole,” said Downie.
Overall, Streetly made continuous marginal gains in its quality of teaching, technology, data analysis, its building and the services and facilities within, and the systems. Improvements in its culture and ethos include a quest for personal excellence, respect, friendship, inspiration, equality, determination and courage.
Besides that, students’ extra curricular activities and sports, including music, dance, nature walks and others were also monitored and recorded as part of their overall assessment.
Assessment of students’ learning and questioning, oral and written feedback, planning, engagement and enjoyment, and skills and progress were all electronically monitored centrally by Frog VLE with data analysis of past performance, the setting of targets in small incremental steps and of current performance.
The students also set up communities and forums to deal with problems such as bullying in their school.
The nett result of all the above initiatives is that Streetly was elevated to academy status under England’s Academies Act, which allows it to manage its own budgets, curriculum and teaching staff within government-set guidelines and now, there are more students seeking to join that it can take.
“However, the immeasurable impact was the improvements in students’ ethos,” said Downie.
En. Sukimin Juki, headmaster of Taman Putra Perdana National School in Sepang is a strong advocate of the use of technology in classrooms to enhance teaching and learning, and he spearheaded initiatives to educate the community and to raise awareness of the Frog VLE among students’ parents.
A primary school, Taman Putra Perdana has 1,796 students, 128 teachers and 10 non-academic staff and besides Frog VLE, it also has MyGFL and MAMPU’s learning management system.
“We want to turn our students into valuable assets and to make teaching a desirable profession and our teachers work with parents to achieve this,” said Sukimin.
“Since most students don’t have computers at home, they were going to cybercafes, where they are exposed to unhealthy influences, so besides our computer labs, we provided computers in public areas within the school for them to use,” he added.