Opened by MP, Mike Kane, Saint Paul’s is bridging the gap between what technology in schools can provide and what students can dream!
During the Covid-19 lockdown and over the summer period Saint Paul’s Catholic High School in Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester like many schools across Manchester was supporting the local community, keeping its doors open and providing a place for the children of key workers to ensure their parents could continue to work and support the country.
During this unusual time, Saint Paul’s, which was built during the Government’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme and is part of the Wythenshawe Catholic Academies Trust launched, in line with its development programme and following social distancing and Covid-19 precautions, its largest update to school wide teaching and learning resources since it was built. After already replacing over 90 student computers the previous year, all the remaining computers across the school were replaced. At the same time old projectors were taken down and replaced with modern 4k touch screens, removing the last of the BSF era computers still relied on by many schools. Now every teacher, in every classroom has access to a modern computer fit for delivering Teaching and Learning in to the future. The updates were not only targeted at teachers, all the school’s 5 ICT Suites were upgraded again along with two additional trollies worth of mobile devices, ensuring all students have access to a reliable, fast and modern computer to work and study on.
Despite all these improvements, when purchasing new IT equipment for schools there is always a trade-off between what the devices are capable of and how much the school is able to spend when replacing devices. Even with Saint Paul’s ICT Strategy, ensuring equipment stays up to date and meets the needs of the modern classroom is expensive and a line has to be drawn concerning the quality of the equipment a school can afford to buy and still being able to meet its other commitments. This in itself can be a barrier to learning.
- An aspiring producer cannot edit videos because they don’t have the latest tools or their computer isn’t fast enough
- A budding computer programmer following the Computing Curriculum cannot move on to developing 3D applications because the engines being used by businesses require equipment their school computer doesn’t have and cannot afford at home
- A hopeful future journalist cannot practice their presenting skills because the traditional curriculums don’t always provide a suitable avenue for those talents making it difficult for schools to spend money on equipment to support them
Despite the already significant investment, the school’s senior team, along with support from their colleagues within the academy trust, decided to look to bridge this gap between what students were aspiring to become and what the technology could provide.
The school sees its library as essential to learning, and it has long been at the forefront of improving Literacy, integrating itself across the curriculum to support an effective learning environment. Despite this, libraries are not always the first choice for young people and it can be difficult to encourage students to engage with the benefits to Teaching and Learning it can provide. The importance the school places on the library and the desire to have more students access it, made it was a natural choice for a project unique to schools in the area.
So, when MP and former pupil, Mike Kane came to speak to students about the new facilities, and to officially open the new library, he found a sight not often found within a school, a collection of top of the range Gaming PC’s and enough flashing lights to challenge the best Blackpool has to offer! With Mr Kane commenting “The best game we could run when I was at school was Space Invaders on an IBM PC” the staff at the opening ceremony explained to Mr Kane that regardless of their background or the financial status of their family, students have a natural affinity for technology. They integrate it in to their daily lives in ways we never expect, gaming is for them part of that attraction. Gaming PC’s are ultimately just very good computers, they can run Word and Excel as well as any other computer, but the expensive fast processor and graphics card that runs the latest games, can be out of the reach of some families but also makes it possible for the computer to support:
- That student who wants to be an engineer, allowing them to access CAD tools for whatever design they want to produce
- The student that wants to be a film maker can now work with 4k video without it taking hours to edit
- The student who learned to code in their bedroom and wants to be a programmer, to use the latest 3D engines such as Unity which is supports many of the world’s modern games
and Dale Jones, the school’s Network Manager, explained, that “while these computers are seen as really powerful now, by the time students are entering work, these will just be computers. The investment the school has made now will mean students will have had access to the latest tools without being held back by the technology, giving them the best possible chance to learn the skills that will be essential in the future workforce.”
“The library has a massive impact on our pupils, inspiring their reading, supporting their literacy and developing their information skills,” commented Mrs Irena Savova, the school’s Librarian. “It is a unique resource, a powerhouse of reading and learning within the school. We wanted to revitalise it, we want more and more pupils to feel comfortable using the library and ultimately, we want to realise the potential of every pupil by exciting the latent reader and learner in all.”
No sooner had Mr Kane cut the ribbon and news begun to spread among the pupils of what was really going on with that, up to that point, secret project up in the library. Many students started to ask to see the new changes, in some cases, the first time the students had chosen to come to the library outside their timetabled lessons.
The school looks to build on this to introduce more students the library, with the introduction of a library of 2000 e-books available to every student via their own mobile devices, along with audio books to encourage students who may find reading difficult, so they can also discover the excitement books can bring. With gaming a popular pastime for all students, the school is also aspiring to work with the British Esports Association to enter their school focused Esports competitions, in line with the school’s existing sports teams. The school’s Business Manager, Gary Sugden, commented: “Gaming is a social activity which stimulates students to play together. Many games require players to work in teams to achieve goals or to compete against each other. In order to achieve that, students will need to focus on their communication skills: build better relationships which will help them develop a higher self-esteem.” Students will be able to form their own teams, and be encouraged to design their own logos and customise the lights in the library to reflect how they wish to portray their team. Gary also commented: “The added flexibility of this space will allow students to decide how they want their Esports teams to develop, they can choose how competitions are run, they can make the space their own. Then we can flick a switch and the room returns to a standard classroom, ready for another day of Teaching and Learning.”
The school already has plans to host a virtual chess tournament, with the games being streamed around the school for students to watch and are looking for those students who aspire to be the next generation of presenters, allowing them to get involved in running and providing commentary on the games, promoting the kind of skills now found online in streaming services such as YouTube or Twitch.
Mrs Charlotte Cooper, Assistant Headteacher responsible for Teaching and Learning, explained: “The suite will be used across the curriculum. Teaching colleagues are already finding new ways to integrate it in to their lesson plans, such as inviting in poets via video chat to work with English classes or developing new courses such as photography which will allow the school to supplement the normal curriculum we offer our students with additional courses teaching practical skills.”
Mr Alex Hren, Headteacher, followed with: “Thank you to Mike Kane, for returning to our school and speaking to our next generation of students about the new facilities. Use of the library is a vital part of a pupil’s school experience. It is a space where students can shelter from the Wythenshawe rain, study and learn, a social hub where students can access careers advice, work with friends and now have access to technology which ensures that regardless of what a student wishes to do Saint Paul’s can provide them with the tools to become citizens of an increasingly digital future. This may not be your normal classroom, but the Teaching and Learning benefits it aims to bring are at the forefront of its design and we look forward to seeing what the students do with it.”
And at the end of the day, who doesn’t like lots of flashing lights!!