Within its walls, Penybont School combines the old and the new. Set within large grounds and situated in Bridgend town centre, it is the oldest school building in the local authority. Founded originally as a Board School in 1877, it moved to its present site in 1972.
With approximately 350 pupils on role from ages 3-11, the traditional catchment area around the school includes families that are socially and economically disadvantaged as well as those which are relatively prosperous. A majority of pupils, however, live outside this area and come mainly from two large estates with a significant amount of social housing. 70% of the children at Penybont School come from 20% of the deprived homes in Wales and just under 30% are entitled to receive free school meals, which is above the local authority and national averages. The abilities of pupils on entry varies each year, but is generally below average.
Penybont has won numerous accolades including being listed as a school with best practice and an example of a school that uses ICT well to raise standards in literacy, as well as using ICT to enhance the provision for more able and talented pupils in ESTYNs report: The impact of ICT on pupils’ learning in primary schools July 2013.
The Pupil Deprivation Grant (PDG), School Effectiveness Grant (SEG) and Welsh Effectiveness Grant (WEG) are the Welsh Government’s principal means of providing financial support for three national priorities for schools:
- improving standards in literacy;
- improving standards in numeracy, and
- reducing the impact of poverty on educational attainment.
30% of pupils at Penybont are eligible for free school meals (e-FSM) which is one of the criteria to receive PDG funding. The main goal for Penybont is to improve the outcomes for their children, as many arrive to the school at nursery age with low level basic skills.
Penybont’s Head Teacher, Ben Blackall, and his committed staff have a positive ethos which ensures the best possible start in education for its children. Ben believes that motivating children has long been a challenge in education, so using modern technology seems to grab their children’s attention – and Ben states that if you can combine modern technologies with learning, you’re giving them a better start in life and helping with inclusion outside the classroom.
The purchase of LearnPads by using their Pupil Deprivation Grant (PDG), has transformed Penybont’s classrooms by engaging the children to learn. This has led to improved levels of attainment and motivation for their students. Attendance at the school is good and the children come to school excited to use the LearnPads as they don’t have tablets at home. Head Teacher Ben believes that schools using PDG on tablets will double due to the positive impact they have on learning and teaching.
Schools need to take three crucial steps: identify the target group, its characteristics and needs; plan interventions which make the most effective use of resources; monitor and evaluate their impact.
With this in mind, raising literacy and numeracy levels is essential to improving the educational attainment of learners in all areas of the curriculum at Penybont. It is imperative that, from the earliest stages of the Foundation Phase, schools design learning activities that will develop good oracy, reading, writing and numeracy skills in all their pupils. Improvements in literacy and numeracy require all teachers to have the appropriate skills, expertise and techniques to ensure they can ‘teach right first time’ and give learners the best possible grounding in literacy and numeracy.
For help with improving the standards of literacy, Penybont found an additional use for their LearnPads as e-readers as an invaluable tool for their Reading Club at lunchtime. Teachers create reading lessons for the children and the LearnPads give the children a feeling of freedom to explore and embrace the technology.
Penybont are LearnPad’s first Leader School and were chosen for their commitment to best practice for using technology to teach and they have transformed their classrooms and children by taking LearnPad into the core of their everyday planning. When asked how Penybont felt about being the first Leader School, Head Teacher Ben Blackall replied “We were really proud to be asked to be the first Leader School for LearnPad. We’ve integrated LearnPad fully into our school, from Foundation right up to KS2 we can see the massive benefits they have given both our teachers and pupils.”
“As part of being a Leader School, we are available to offer advice to schools who want to know more about how we’ve made LearnPad a great tool for teaching and engaging our children. We are happy to share this success with other schools and as a result, we are holding some Introduction to Tablets courses here, where we invite schools in for a day for LearnPad training and show them best practice and share our experiences. Teachers will come away with the knowledge they need to successfully enable them to implement tablet solutions in their schools and raise standards to the highest level”.
In May 2013, Penybont purchased their first LearnPads. The Central South Consortium (CSC) ran a conference and LearnPads were being demonstrated there. Head Teacher Ben was immediately impressed by the element of control and supervision the teachers had as to what children could see and access at any time. His concern was that most of the time children are learning independently with tablets and they could potentially be anywhere on the internet using it. Ben commented “We are very e-safety conscious here at Penybont, so any device where teachers can be in control is what impressed me straight away with LearnPad”.
“We had previously invested in 15 iPads in our school and one of the main issues we had was we weren’t sure the children were actually on task as there were other distractions on the iPad. If you put children on a tablet, they’ll have great fun but we were not sure they were always learning. When we purchased the LearnPads, our pupils and most of our staff were already familiar with tablet technology through use of our iPads, but we couldn’t see how to use the iPads effectively to support Numeracy and Literacy.
With the LearnPads, this was a no-brainer. We had control over what the children were learning but also we had the ability to use our existing content, create new content and share resources. There is also the element of cost for iPad vs LearnPad, which helped with the decision to purchase LearnPads – they are a very cost effective solution”.
Currently, Penybont have 60 LearnPads and have purchased an additional 60 using their Pupil Deprivation Grant. They have split the LearnPads equally between classes and have enough charging trolleys so that each class has their own. There is also a suite of Apple computers so the teachers and children are used to using different operating systems – android and Apple.
Starting with LearnPads was easy. Simon Poole is Penybont’s Network Manager who helps support Penybont’s IT infrastructure and does a brilliant job with the school’s IT which includes LearnPads. Simon said “From opening the LearnPad box to its first use is a simple 4-step process. I can configure and deploy a Class Set of 30 LearnPads in the time it takes to setup 3 or 4 Apple iPads”.
Head Teacher Ben says, “Although Simon is on standby to support our IT, I’ve found that you don’t need a Network Manager to setup a LearnPad, as teachers can manage to do this out of the box – it doesn’t need to be done by a techy person.”
Ben chose teachers with little or no tablet experience to use LearnPad for the first term. They were encouraged to just play with it and use it with their class. They were asked not to worry too much, just get used to tablet technology. The web-based management system meant they could push content on to LearnPads easily and they could be used by anyone.
Teachers are allowed to purchase premium content from the LearnPad Store, but they are mostly using free web-based content or existing content. Penybont forecasts that they will increase their use of purchased apps and premium content.
Ben says, “Teachers have control, and they have got to be organised. Their useful time management as team means they do some of their planning together as groups and share resource and ideas regularly, so they have a great bank of resources in which to access.”
“I only have to go into a classroom to see the children and teachers are using the LearnPads well.” says Ben, who regularly logs into the portal to see in real-time what the children are doing in their classrooms. By keeping in touch in this way, Ben has a good understanding of how his teachers are delivering their lessons and how his pupils are performing.
Ease of use of the LearnPad solution for teachers to differentiate learning for their individual pupils is what is most important for Penybont. Lesson Profiles (collections of resources) based on subject, age and developmental level are easily set up and teachers are able to create lesson plans for each child quicker than they could previously. Each child uses their LearnPad to scan a QR code matching their individual Lesson Profile and they immediately obtain their learning objective and access any associated activities assigned to them.
By using the LearnPads, children who haven’t engaged are now engaging – especially reluctant learners. The children love LearnPads, so the lunchtime Reading Club has been a big success to help raise our standards of literacy.
The IT at Penybont has always had a high profile, and they were one of the first to receive the BECTA ICT mark (now NAACE ICT mark), which is the award for schools with good use of technology to support teaching, learning and school administration. Deservedly popular with schools wanting to demonstrate both effective and mature use of technology, schools use this award to drive change and many are, or go on to be, outstanding.
Penybont’s ICT skills were recognised and their last inspection report rewarded them as excellent. Two case studies of Penybont’s work with ICT were published by ESTYN on their website. Ben says, “We are moving forward and embracing technology and using it to drive education and standards in our school and we are looking at developing the use of tablets in our classrooms far into the future”.
Ben suggests that teachers come along to a fact finding event or even make arrangements to visit a school who is using LearnPads. He believes that by using their PDG to fund their LearnPads it has really helped their children become engaged and motivated to learn.
When they decided to purchase LearnPads, they also purchased training on how to get the best out of them. Ben says this training is priceless and has enriched their use of the tablets and he would highly recommend any school who purchase LearnPads, also purchase training.
Head Teacher Ben says, “The flexibility and control offered by the LearnPad solution enables our teachers to target specific skills for development across the whole primary age range and curriculum. LearnPads engage and enthuse learners and offer access to emerging technologies at an affordable price. LearnPad works!”