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Mobile, Personalised Learning – The Essa Academy

These are my notes from a fascinating day at the Essa Academy, courtesy of Apple. We were treated to a tour and talks by a number of staff including the Principal – Showk Badat, Abdul Chohan & Jeff Ellis.

I was fascinated by not just the integration of mobile technologies (they are famous for giving every pupil an iPod Touch, and now, every teacher an iPad), but also their innovative New Basics Year 7 curriculum and their elective personalised curriculum for years 8-11. I was also impressed by the fantastic pupils and the excellent learning that we saw.

Below are basically my notes as I took them, I hope they’re of interest to some people and I will reflect on them further in relation to my IT Provision Plans.

Essa Academyhttp://www.essaacademy.org/

Story over past 3 years:

– Stop doing the wrong things well. Start doing the right things better. e.g. running a 3 Year KS3 when no need – one year costs £1m+ and adds what?

– Abandon ‘nonsense & rubbish’!

– Remove barriers to creativity

– Translate or transform learning & pedagogy – especially with tech – focussed on transforming, not just translating the old way of doing things to the new tools.

– Motto: All Will Succeed

Built on 3 pillars, all supported by a bedrock of Technology For Creativity:

– Personalised Learning

– Professional Practice

– Social Capital

Technology breaks down the barriers to learning. Massively increases the creativity of staff and students. Improves communications and efficiencies. e.g. students in habit of emailing staff questions as and when they come up wherever they may be. Students ‘notes’ app is a thing to behold – completely embraced as their number one knowledge storage place!

Year 7: New Basics Curriculum

– Much like our Project 7

– Based upon Queensland’s New Basics Project, but tailored for Essa.

– Eng & Maths separate (25%)

– Everything else in New Basics projects (75%)


New Basics Structure - from http://education.qld.gov.au/
New Basics Structure - from http://education.qld.gov.au/

– 4 Rich Tasks per year. e.g. Being British, Science & Ethics.

– Classes of 50! with 2 staff. One stays with, one project specialist who rotates through all groups through the year doing the same project.

– Big room with smaller break-off space

– FANTASTIC learning, enthusiasm, confidence – really impressive!

– Staff only teach this and have the 25% time for planning

– Built on key questions:

– Who am I? Where am I going?

– How do I make sense of and communicate with the World?

– What are my rights and my responsibilities

– All work is assessed against ‘Repertoires of Practice’ – a list of learning outcomes

– These are not dumbed down – impressive language for learning used – pupils understand it perfectly well!

– All planned and matched against ECM & Functional Skills competencies


– Year 8-11 all choose 2 ‘electives’ from a bank of 4. From: WEB (work, enterprise, business); Arts; The World; Social

– Electives last 6 months

– Taught in mixed year group classes.

– Every 6 months pupils choose to continue & deepen knowledge or change and broaden

– Timetable is 9 ‘sessions’ (as opposed to 25 lessons!)

– All learning built on 5 core pedagogies.

– All learning is on Level 2 qualifications.

– Examined when ready e.g. 500 pupils sat Maths last year, 25% of Y8 got C+

Essa Curriculum Structure

– E&M will be timetabled in 3 hour blocks – up to subject leaders how that time shared out

– Allows personalisation to individual pupils needs.


– Each child has Personal Vision Plan

– Supported by Significant Adult (tutor)

– Significant Adults everyone from Teacher to Head’s PA to Site Staff

– 5-12 pupils per staff member

– ‘Tutor groups’ chosen carefully and matched to staff e.g. small challenging boys group have caretaker – and have been brilliantly behaved ever since!


– Assessment recorded every 4 weeks in every subject.

– 5 target review days each year with parents and significant adults


Student Voice:

– Students integral part of leading school

– School Senate made up of 53 pupils – one per tutor group – elected

– School Ambassadors sit above this group

– All meet every week

– Behaviour Panel run by students – restorative justice doled out by the pupils

– Technology is the common denominator that breaks down the barrier between staff and students.

– Relationships have never been stronger, learning has never been more mutual. Student will sit and check all facts and figures on iPods and feed straight back to staff if they aren’t right!


iPod Each:

Creativity – a new literacy. Everyone has one. Parents pay 12.50 a year for insurance. All other costs covered by Academy.

Children will try and fail and try again. Staff less so. Students run iPod clinics. Creativity ideas come from the students and are sent back towards the staff.

Sims accessible. Info direct to staff pockets. Massive efficiency savings. This leads to more time with pupils. No notices etc in form time – quality conversations instead. Form time can be outside – just email form to let them know – instant communication.  Streamlined, productive, gives everyone a voice – (dinner ladies even have one!). Massive impact on quality of work of caretakers etc. Caretaker input to learning – first to tell everyone about iplayer app. Food better as catering team email menus and kids feedback what they don’t like!

GCSEPod (http://www.gcsepod.co.uk/subjects/#) – podcasts, subscription based resource. Searchable by exam board, download straight to iPods. Don’t need wifi at home then. E.g. Listen to podcast for homework, tap answers into notes, email back to staff. 900 downloads last year.

VLE – was Frog. But why? Email on iPod more powerful. All dept resources now on Dropbox (http://dropbox.com) so shared between staff and students and available anywhere. Each dept has a 50Gb account. The device is the vle. Frog no longer used.

Edmodo (http://edmodo.com)- used across the school. Excellent communication tool for each class and free. Anne Marie Duffy joined the GCSE English group’s Edmodo and helps them with their homework and revision!

Ipads for teachers: Each teacher given one this year.  Massive impact on creativity. Freedom to teacher. No technicians etc needed. Finance director gifts the app to staff and students. Reviews help assess quality. Direct communication to the developer – most happy to help.

Costs: Textbook outlays slashed. Financing has to change. Less money to depts. Printing costs halved in first year with no efforts to reduce – happened naturally and continues to fall.

Policies etc handed out on podcasts. Done in multiple languages for parents.  Audio is massively increasing as a resource.

Macs bringing massive increase in the quality of digital production. Slowly replacing PCs with Macs – especially for staff.

Interactive whiteboards all removed. Artificial ‘interactivity for one or two’ replaced with truly interactive learning.


2007: 37% 2008: 58% 2009: 67% 2010 99% 5A*-C.

28-55% 5A*-C E&M in same period.

Costs 7p a day over 5 years. 18p over 2 years. Going to run own insurance.




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  1. Thanks for making the effort to share. Lots to take away. Infrastructure?

    Did they say how they managed APP purchases and itunes accounts? IMHO removing IWBs an impact vs cost judgement, one I tend to side with.

    1. Apps managed by students and staff themselves. Largely on their own machines. Personalised devices managed by the people themselves.

      Can’t argue with IWB decision myself either. Overpriced, under-utilised.

      1. Kristian: APP purchases do not feature on the iPods for these students, unfortunately. They do not have access to iTunes accounts.

  2. hi im a student at the school at what you saw on that day was probably played out for one reason 
    personalised learning does not happen the students only get the electives that the directors can be bothered to put them in (most of the time not the lesson they want.

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment. It’s always difficult personalising a curriculum in a school, with a traditional model or with a more innovative one such as this. Some students always lose out and can’t choose the options they want.
      Interesting to hear your take though, I realise we always see the best of a school when visiting.

      Dan Stucke

  3. I’m also a student at the school. What you saw was like a play. It was all set up deliberately so you would see what they want. The truth is the students get the electives the teachers think are best for them not the ones they want (the ones they would do better in) causing disruption to students in those classes who actually want to do well. I am in a few of these classes. Also the Year 7s are pampered. The so-called stage not age thing they proposed as failed. Languages, Maths and Science have gone back to teaching by year due to last year being so unsuccessful that students now in Year 11 missed out on a vital year due to younger students thinking they could mess about as they had more time. The iPod is rarely used (most students end up having them confiscated for trying to use them to help with work in lesson). Any students you may have spoken to will have been trained to say what they said or were in Year 7 and therefore they have not seen the true school so it is fun to them. 

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