What happens when you give a tablet (or similar) device to a pupil who is economically disadvantaged? If the experience of Victoria Park Academy in Birmingham is anything to go by, one happy outcome is increased parental engagement.

Steve Beswick, Director of Education, Microsoft, commented that:

“The school continues to show its commitment to narrowing the attainment gap through the creative use of one-to-one devices to raise aspirations not just for the pupils but also engaging the wider family group. It has been astonishing to see the difference the devices have made to the school’s relationship with their students and their families.”

But you don’t have to take Steve’s word for it. The children themselves say the same thing, in their own way. I spoke to a group of Year 6 pupils (10-11 year-olds), and they made comments like:

My parents love it, because it makes me want to learn!


My parents and brothers and sisters like me taking the device home because it means they can help me with my work.

Parental engagement is high on many schools’ agenda, but is notoriously difficult to achieve. It takes a lot of effort by the school, and there are no short-cuts. There is a big difference between informing parents and engaging them, of course. The reason the one-to-one programme at Victoria Park has gone down so well with parents is probably that the device makes it possible for parents and siblings to become actively involved with the child’s education.

The programme has had benefits in terms of pupil progress. This has been measured not just in general, anecdotal terms – one girl told me that she had jumped from a level 4a in maths to a 5b over two terms – but statistically according to Ofsted criteria. For example, the school’s 2013 tracking shows that a group of disadvantaged pupils in Year 6 are just 0.16 Average Points Score (APS) behind national expectations (25.5) in English and Maths, compared with 0.8 for the rest of cohort.

Unpicking the causes of the impressive improvements is not entirely easy, because the school has undertaken several courses of action at more or less the same time. For example, it has:

  • Given tablets to 120 disadvantaged pupils in Years 5 and 6. The pupils use these for doing research, and organising their notes in OneNote, and being creative with SongSmith and PhotoSynth;
  • Placed a very strong emphasis on pupil self-reliance and peer collaboration;
  • Introduced a new curriculum which is both flexible and creative;
  • Introduced highly structured learning activities using a TASC (Thinking Actively in a Social Context) approach;
  • Partnered with other organisations, such as the Real Ideas Organisation (RIO), in order to get the children learning in a real-world context;
  • Early identification and intervention for children likely to start falling behind.

This is almost certainly one of those cases where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Any one of those approaches would have had a positive effect, but when they are all working together the results are quite astounding. As objective proof of this, note that the school went from Special Measures to Outstanding in just three years. Pretty good going, especially when you consider that nearly 70% of pupils do not speak English as their first language.

I found the children themselves to be as articulate as they are enthusiastic about the activities they enjoy at school, such when the whole school chartered a steam train on the Severn Valley Railway, or when they pretended to be Victorians and learnt how to make soap like our forebears did.

Victoria Park is a school in which economic hardship and other difficulties are challenges to be tackled rather than insuperable obstacles.

If you are interested in adopting 1:1 devices in your school, we have partnered with Microsoft to offer a range of fantastic devices at reduced cost with this goal specifically in mind. Take a look at our Shape The Future Project page to find out more.

We will be putting up new posts on the subject of 1:1 devices every day this week in conjunction with the Microsoft UK Schools Blog so please do stop by to read more!

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