The use of digital tools and technology are increasingly embedded in our everyday lives – connecting us, extending our reach across the globe and opening up opportunities for individuals and communities.

Digital learning represents an exciting prospect to unlock such opportunities for children, young people and adults as they find hybrid ways of learning and leveraging online resources to further their studies.

This certainly was the case for Hudson Road Primary School in Sunderland, who stepped up their digital capabilities at the end of January 2020 to embrace their new high-speed network and all the opportunities it would bring.

Thinking big

This story begins with a forward-thinking primary school whose big hopes and ambitions, coupled with the digital leadership of their local authority (Sunderland City Council), were able to make a difference to their pupils and their families across the local community.

Slow and unreliable connectivity in the school meant that staff had no confidence in being able to embed digital methods across the curriculum, but in January 2020, all this changed.

The addition of a high-speed network at Hudson Road Primary School allowed the school to realise their ambitions and, led by a team who recognised the importance of technology in learning and in life, launch a wide variety of digitised activities to underpin and augment learning across the entire school.

Providing a seamless learning experience for pupils, the installation of gigabit connectivity brought a real step change in the school’s connectivity, way beyond their previous limits. This upgrade came at a crucial time, as just two months later we entered a nationwide series of lockdowns amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw remote learning become the new normal.

Immediately using their technological advances to their advantage, the school utilised applications such as Zoom and Teams to host digital classrooms, meetings, training and more. These platforms brought learning to life, even when physical trips were cancelled, they were replaced by live streams or digital tours that the children could enjoy via Teams and Zoom.

Quickly enabling and normalising everyday digital activities allowed them to be integral to everyday learning. Children were able to continue learning remotely and teachers could confidently factor digital learning into all angles of their curriculum planning.

Building ambitions

The school’s enhanced digital infrastructure meant that teachers could organise numerous talks with a range of professionals, to build the children’s ambitions and reveal the details of numerous careers.

One great example of this was the ‘Mini Police Programme’, which took place over Zoom and, to the children’s delight, included a live tour of a police helicopter. This virtual experience meant that the children didn’t completely miss out when the face-to-face session had to be cancelled.

The children took part in numerous online activities, live streams and digital experiences, all of which elevated their digital confidence and capabilities. These included:

  • Taking part in live lessons with the BBC
  • Heritage England Teams sessions
  • Reading Plus online adaptive literacy programme
  • Coding (for Key Stage 2 learners and upwards)
  • Times Tables Rockstars platform
    and more

The children can now watch educational clips and films to aid learning, easily navigating a host of engaging resources that the teachers have the confidence to embed in their programmes of learning as a direct result of the enhanced speed and reliability of their internet connection.

Pupils have the ability to download from a bigger selection of tools and supportive programmes, swiftly accessing them in school. This is particularly important as some children do not have internet access at home, so the school’s secure networks allow both pupils and their parents or carers to gain access to digital equipment and resources that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to use.

Improving work-life balance

The school’s improved digital infrastructure allows teaching staff to have a better work-life balance, as previously they couldn’t get connected at school and had no choice but to do all of their work at home. Now, they can utilise the fast network at the school and reduce the amount that has to be done outside of working hours.

Upskilling and updating the knowledge of team members has also improved with the enhanced connectivity, as digital training modules add value to offline training components.

Improving communication and studies outside the classroom

Connecting learning inside and outside the classroom removes the restraints of the classroom walls, opening up learning into other spaces and blending it with everyday activities. Taking this a step further, teachers can now use QR codes to quickly and easily direct pupils from handouts they receive in class to complementary online learning resources.

Extending conversations and engagement even further, the digitally-equipped teaching team are now using a range of social media channels to communicate and secure software packages to aid assessment, tracking and reporting.

The school uses a platform called ‘Earwig’, which is like Facebook but for schools, and it allows teachers to collate evidence of learning, assess and track progress easily. It also means they can upload content which celebrates success and communicates key messages with stakeholders ranging from staff to pupils and parents.

The school is also a lot more active on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, as their new connectivity makes accessing these much easier.

The in-school connectivity has boosted home learning with links being included to YouTube channels and live lessons across lesson plans, meaning that children don’t need to miss out on vital learning and contact with teachers, even in difficult circumstances such as the recent lockdown periods.

Improving wellbeing

The children also run their own wellbeing group online as a result of the enhanced connectivity. This involves live Teams meetings in which important topics can be discussed and wellbeing is prioritised as they share and care for each other, even when located in different places.

The school can now use e-books with children, an untapped resource prior to the introduction of their ultrafast connectivity. They have seen the number of children accessing e-books steadily rise since their faster connection was established.

Keeping parents and carers up-to-date with their child’s progress is an important part of each pupil’s learning plan. Now that the school is digitally equipped, they have launched electronic info packs which tell parents what their children have done at school. This is backed up by regular e-newsletters to parents to ensure they are informed on progress, support and opportunities.

For those parents who don’t have WiFi at home, they can use the public WiFi at the school – this showcases how the connectivity is improving lives outside of the classroom and extending opportunities out into the local community too.

A digital future

Enabled by their low latency, fast network, children and teachers are now able to use engaging technology to their advantage in learning and lesson planning alike.

The future holds even more exciting opportunities for the school’s teaching team, pupils and their families. For example, the school has started a partnership with the North East STEM Hub which gives them access to equipment, such as laptops, that the Hub provides. This means the school can have more external networks and widen the reach and flexibility of their offer for staff and pupils.

Accelerating achievement using digital tools not only boosts confidence and digital literacy, it builds the foundations for a digital future, opening up opportunities for children to further develop their digital skills as they grow and progress.

Sign up to receive our Smart City updates

Opt-in to receive all the latest news, insights and opportunities from Sunderland Our Smart City.