When the RSA Academy, a pioneering secondary school in the West Midlands, chose RM Education to be its ICT partner, it got a great deal more than just a supplier.
With its unique blend of technological expertise and educational focus, RM Education has been able to create a close working relationship with the Academy and its 1,200 students between the ages of 11 and 18.
It has played an important role in supporting the school's development, its mission of 'Transforming Learning, Transforming Lives', and being a part of the social and economic regeneration of the community that surrounds it.
About the school
The RSA Academy opened in 2008 in what was formerly Willingsworth School in Tipton, an industrial town in the heart of the Borough of Sandwell (between Birmingham and Wolverhampton). Two years later it moved into a new, custom-designed building on the same site. The governing body and trust are chaired by Sir Mike Tomlinson, formerly Chief Inspector of Schools, and the school is sponsored by the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce).
It is the first in the country to deliver a curriculum entirely based on the RSA's innovative 'Opening Minds' approach. Opening Minds is a visionary new way of looking at the curriculum, now being used in 200 schools. The aim is to provide an integrated education based on competencies, giving students not only subject knowledge but the ability to understand and apply it.
Developed by the RSA, Opening Minds is an approach to curriculum development that promotes innovative and integrated ways of thinking. The RSA Academy is a National Centre and the only Academy in the country so far to design the whole curriculum around Opening Minds. At the heart of Opening Minds is helping students develop five key competencies:
- Managing information
- Relating to people
- Managing situations
"A competence-based approach enables students not just to acquire subject knowledge but to understand, use and apply it in the within the context of their wider learning and life. It also offers students a more holistic and coherent way of learning which allows them to make connections and apply knowledge across different subject areas."
Supporting the new build
Opening Minds principles were woven into the fabric of the new building, and the seamless integration of technology was a vital part. ICT is embedded in every area of school life and involves everyone - all teachers, staff, pupils and their parents.
With ICT such a crucial element, RM Education was involved in the Academy's new building from the design stage. This meant forging relationships with other stakeholders, in particular, the RSA and the Academy's consultants, Novatia. With years of experience in helping schools with their new buildings (through the Building Schools for the Future programme, for instance), RM Education is expert in making sure that school life continues to flow smoothly while ICT equipment is being installed.
An important part of RM Education's role was making sure that staff felt confident with using their new ICT kit, and in the new teaching and learning spaces being developed. RM Education set up a 'technology sandpit' in the old school building where teachers could get a feel for some of the new technology. Key stakeholders visited RM Education's Real Centre at its Oxfordshire headquarters, to see cutting edge ICT and integrated, purpose-built furniture at work within a flexible learning space.
RM Education also helped the Academy by filling a critical vacancy - for Director of ICT. The company seconded one of its senior educationalists to take on this challenge, enabling RM Education to work in a close partnership with the school in supporting its vision for ICT. The ICT Director is a part of the school's Executive Leadership Team and will be taking forward its ICT plans for the coming 3-5 years.
The appointment of the ICT Director has been followed by a number of prestigious awards and commendations for the school: the NAACE ICT Mark, the Third Millennium Learning Award, shortlisting for the IAA (Independent Academies Association) in the Exemplary Student Digital Leaders category and (for RM Education's seconded educationalist) the 2012 Times Educational Supplement Award for 'ICT visionary in education'. The secondment arrangement works based on agreed success criteria, reviewed regularly by both RM Education and the RSA Academy's Executive Leadership Team. Working jointly, both parties review the success of the school's ICT Development Plan and the future ICT development needs for administration, communication, leadership, management, learning and teaching.
The Academy's ICT strategy ensures that technology is seamlessly integrated into all curriculum key stages. The Digital Leaders programme gives students a rigorous training not only in supporting staff and students with technology, but also to provide leadership. The Academy is constantly evolving to ensure that it stays at the cutting edge in its use of technology to engage students and staff as well as enhancing attainment.
Students have been closely involved in the relationship between their Academy and RM Education. They have met RM Education's Product Managers and given feedback on product strategy and design. In addition, RM Education is sponsoring and supporting Academy students taking the new International Baccalaureate Career-related Certificate (IBCC) in ICT. This includes masterclasses delivered by RM Education staff, helping the Academy develop the course itself, and providing students with essential work experience.
The RSA Academy's ICT strategy seeks:
- To enrich and extend learning throughout the curriculum, using the latest technology and online resources to support collaborative working, independent study and the re-working of ideas as well as giving students the opportunity to work at a more demanding level.
- To familiarise students, staff and parents with a range of ICT resources, helping them become confident users capable of evaluating the potential - and the limitations - of technology.
- To encourage an attitude of mind that can adjust to and take advantage of the developing nature of the technology, while being mindful of the implications and consequences for individuals and society.
- To encourage the use of ICT regardless of ability, disability, race, gender or special educational needs.
- To ensure all members of staff contribute to the development and use of ICT within the curriculum, developing students' ICT capability, monitoring and evaluating their progress.
- To ensure that parents have the knowledge and capacity to access the academy's learning platform and support their child's learning from home.
- To ensure that the academy remains at the cutting edge of technological developments through its strategic partnerships.
Find out more about RM Education's solutions for multi-academy trusts at www.rm.com/mats