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its communication culture with the help of its learning platform forums and ‘debates of the week’.

Ian Cartwright explains

the time, the school was equipped with interactive whiteboards and projectors; however, internal communication was still limited to paper-based memos and pigeon-holes. My role has included changing the mind-set of

staff to get teachers and students using ICT more effectively for day-to-day communication. We recently welcomed a new headteacher who is keen to invest in new technology to benefit teaching and learning; this change of leadership has opened the school up to new ICT developments.

Culture of leadership

A major development in the school’s ICT infrastructure has been the implementation of a learning platform in September 2009. We have already found that the technology significantly enhances flexible learning as it allows students and teachers to access all school information, such as homework, diaries, email, resource- booking and timetables, from one online location. This is changing the way we work and is helping

to foster a culture of leadership in the school. We have set up forums which have really helped our students to network with each other; transforming them into keen learners both inside and outside the school classroom. Students are now accustomed to using the latest

technology, such as Skype, Facebook and Twitter, so such technology needs to be translated into their learning process to fully engage them.

Online debates

We have introduced a “debate of the week” onto our learning platform to get students involved in forums. Within four weeks of it launching we received 400 posts from students, including those who are normally reluctant to participate in class discussions. Debates such as “should the Pope resign over child

abuse scandals?” and “do BA staff have the right to strike?” are engaging students who are normally quieter

VLE innovation


Thomas Alleyne’s High School is revolutionising

An out-of-hours community

The great advantage of online forums is that they can be developed over time and can cover any topic. We have started to sub-divide the forum area on the learning platform by student area, staff area, book club area and sales area (where staff can sell personal items to others). This is just the start and we plan to launch more

forums under the management of each department to cover every subject. Our school begins in year 9 so we plan to create a forum to help ease year 8 students’ transition from other schools to ours by instigating discussions about what life is like at the school. At present, when students submit an item to the

HOMAS ALLEYNE’S High School is a mixed comprehensive secondary school in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, catering for 1,350 14 to 18-year-olds. When I joined in April 2007,

my brief was to review the school curriculum and ICT provision. At

in the classroom – those who have got something to say but do not usually put their hands up. Popular forum topics started by students include

“school uniform preferences for winter”, “let us have Facebook after 3pm”, and community issues such as “can we have a car park because the local retail park has started clamping cars?”. One student had to return to Zimbabwe for a few

years and now that he is back he is using a forum to gather support for a school charity project over there. Students are also currently using the forums to discuss their views on the forthcoming election.

Planning events

Online forums can be used to get students planning projects and events. For example, one of our year 9 groups was set the task of organising a local music festival and had to show that they effectively used an element of ICT to help plan the event. They were granted restricted access to chatrooms,

forums and email and were required to provide evidence that they exploited these features safely and securely. They were able to chat to each other through an online forum about where to host the event and used it as a means of discussing ideas. They were also able to incorporate hyperlinks and attachments through the learning platform to aid their discussions.

Online suggestions box

The learning platform has allowed us to move our school council’s suggestion box online. This has helped us bring the student voice up-to-date as this is how students communicate nowadays. We have also found that people are more likely to post a suggestion electronically where they are not seen to be posting it into a box at reception. They can also choose to post comments online anonymously which means they are more likely to be open and honest. Recent suggestions

students have made include “more benches needed in the playground”, “more furniture needed in the common room”, “more sanitary bins in the toilets please”, and “more vegetables on the canteen lunch menu”. There have also been suggestions made about the timetables and 6th form signing in and out process.

Safe environment

We feel it is important to give students the freedom to express their ideas and they deserve a platform to voice their opinions. However, this must be managed

forum, a member of staff will approve it before it is published. Later in the summer term, we plan to appoint 6th-formers to monitor the forums, which will be overseen by a member of staff. We will also be holding consultations with parents about how the learning platform can help them to assist their child with their learning and find out what they want the technology to provide apart from simply informing them about their child’s attendance and behaviour. We will also encourage them to use the forums to glean their opinions. Our vision is to further develop our use of forums

to help to create an online community that extends beyond the school day, giving students a voice, and teachers and parents a platform on which to interact and exchange ideas.


• Ian Cartwright is project manager at Thomas Alleyne’s High School in Staffordshire, which uses the Frog Learning Platform. Visit

well to ensure it takes place in a safe environment. The forums are password-protected so only the school’s staff and students have access to them at present. We have implemented e-safety measures on our internal server which alert staff to any concerns such as bullying incidents that need to be addressed.

Debates of the week: One of the engaging debates on Thomas Alleyne’s learning platform


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