Pearson Teaching Award for the Outstanding Use of Technology in the Classroom – Penydre High School

My name is Gareth Price and I’ve been fortunate enough to be nominated for a Pearson Teaching Award for the outstanding use of technology in the classroom. It has been an absolute privilege to represent Penydre high school during this process, which has only been possible due to the supportive staff and pupils at the school.

I was nominated for the award by Dr Mike O’Neil who I met as part of an Outstanding Teacher Programme. I’m grateful for the nod of appreciation from him, a former Pearson Teaching Award winner, and for the wealth of positivity he has brought to Penydre. I’ve been teaching IT for 9 years and whilst I’ve never thought of myself as anything near ‘outstanding’, I have developed a strategic approach towards the effective use of IT in teaching.

When I first started teaching IT, hardware and software was seen as a must have resource. The schools with the better-financed infrastructure were viewed with jealousy. Money or a lack of money was always seen as a barrier to progression. We were fortunate to be involved with Welsh Challenge spending which allowed us to upgrade our core IT suites and network. This initial spend, after years of juicing everything we could out of what we had, was invaluable.

With a reliable infrastructure that required far less maintenance, we have been able to concentrate on what our pupils and staff required for improved teaching through IT. I’ve seen many different technology strategies implemented at various schools and the common thread is that each school is different and requires its own unique setup. There is no right or wrong direction, each school has their own journey to make.

I’m fortunate that the headmaster and senior leadership team at Penydre have been so willing to listen to plans for developing IT at our school. Their contribution and approval has enabled all staff to get on board and incorporate technology into their teaching with a positive mind-set.

It has taken a number of years but we have now been able to remove hundreds of redundant pieces of equipment, upgrade all remaining hardware and reduce the amount of time our technicians are spending on maintenance and repairs. We are now in a position where teachers can use technology where they see it adding something valuable to their lessons.

The value underpinning our IT strategy has been ‘effective IT’. Like most teachers, I appreciate that when you are being asked to incorporate an ‘outside’ element into your lessons there is the initial urge to push back and defend your own subject lesson time. This is why we have tried to make IT at Penydre reliable, accessible and effective.

Pupils are taught skills and how to use a variety of software in IT lessons and are then encouraged to use these across other subjects. An undeniable plus in recent years has been the fantastic improvement in free online software such as CANVA, Socrative and PowToon as well as some excellent apps such as iMovie and Garage band. This has allowed us to be progressive whilst keeping costs down to a minimum.

Not everything we have tried to incorporate has been successful but each attempt has allowed us to fine tune what works for us. We tried Moodle but had limited success. We tried HWB+ and uptake of the platform dipped after initial use. HWB has proven more successful and will be incorporated into our DCF implementation throughout the next year as well as other collaborative tools such as Office 365 and Google Docs.

We have been fortunate to have built up a number of strong relationships with outside agencies which have made a large contribution to our success. These include anything from coding and robotics with Technocamps to a Digital Heroes community project with Merthyr Libraries and Digital Communities Wales. We have been able to build contacts that have varied the curriculum for learners and led to improved outcomes. Minecraft, BBC Microbits and Lego Robotics have also proven especially popular during new intake and transition events.

Each school across Wales is currently on their own journey in deciding what the Successful Futures report means for them. I am hopeful that the key to implementing changes like the DCF successfully at Penydre will be a strong strategic vision. From my experience, where staff and pupils can see there is a positive outcome then they are willing to put in the time and effort to get there. I’m sure there will be bumps along the way but that’s what makes each school unique.

Technology can be a difficult thing to predict so to make bold statements on the future is futile. The behaviour of our pupils is a bit easier to guess so our plans at Penydre will revolve around making IT relevant and purposeful. The same pupil who asks for teacher help in the classroom is watching self-help videos on Youtube to repair their own mobile phone. We need to find a way of transferring skills like IT resilience into the classroom where everyone will benefit.

Being nominated for a Pearson Teaching Award was a surprise but it is also recognition that we are doing something right at Penydre. It reinforces the vision we are developing and allows us to share good practice with others. As for what’s next, I’m looking forward to the House of Commons visit in July as part of the awards ceremony as well the Pearson Teaching Awards final in September where a gold winner will be chosen from the silver nominees. Fingers crossed.

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