Smashing through Special Measures and embracing e-safety [interview]

Nic Ford

Nic is an experienced senior leader who specialises in teaching and learning and the purposeful use of technology in the classroom. Nic believes that technology, when used correctly, is a transformational pedagogical tool. He also specialises in e-safety, educating students and their parents/carers on how to keep young people safe online.

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Nic (centre) at Bett 2017 / Credit: Nic (centre) at Bett 2017 / Credit:

Bolton School deputy headteacher Nic Ford is a blogger, Apple distinguished educator and marathon runner. He has previously been a Geography teacher, a head of department and an assistant headteacher.

Tell us about Bolton School. How is it being deputy headteacher there?

Bolton School is one of the UK’s leading educational establishments, with a long history. The Boys’ school can trace its history back over 500 years. We offer a broad curriculum that both promotes the Arts, Humanities, Languages and Sciences, and enables students to develop their unique interests. It’s fantastic being a deputy head at Bolton School, as I get to work alongside very talented students and dedicated staff.

You're an Apple distinguished educator, and you've led the deployment of a 1:1 iPad scheme. What is it about their technology that you like so much as a teacher and school leader?

iPads are, in my opinion, the perfect tool to support teachers and students. The technology is always on, so no learning time is ever wasted when you want to use them in the classroom. These devices are simple and intuitive, and unlike laptops their use doesn’t create a physical barrier between the teacher and the student. The iPads are used as a pedagogical tool at Bolton, as they enable rapid verbal feedback on students’ learning, offer powerful assessment tools, provide students with a narrative through their curriculum, and improve teacher/student interaction. These quotes from our inspection report highlight their simplistic power:

Their use is embedded to the extent that doing so in lessons seems totally natural.”

Pupils describe these devices as an aid to learning, ‘like a pencil or ruler’ rather than a novelty.”

As a school leader, I want the technology to be an almost invisible tool that can enhance teaching and learning, and that is what we have achieved at Bolton School.

At Bett 2017 you spoke alongside one of your pupils about edtech and e-safety. How do you view the ideal relationship between teacher and learner when it comes to technology?

E-safety education is crucial, as students are spending increasing amounts of their time online. As a school we promote the healthy balance between technology and other important aspects of life, such as exercise and real-world relationships. We’ve actively promoted and supported the HMC ‘Tech Control’ campaign, and we educate students and parents on the changing risks of online activity. This is the ideal relationship, with schools leading the conversation, and working with parents and students to educate them how to use technology to enhance their lives.

As someone who's active on Twitter, what is it about the platform that appeals?

I like the supportive nature of teachers on Twitter. I know that I can ask any question and get support and ideas almost immediately. The fact that I can access a wide range of experience and knowledge quickly, and the concise nature of the tweets, makes it really convenient and useful for teachers.

During your time as deputy headteacher at Pleckgate High School, you helped to bring the school out of Special Measures. How did you and your colleagues achieve this?

Special Measures is a hard time for any school, and it was immediately clear that we would only get out of this situation if we worked together as close-knit community. We, the SMT, worked hard to rebuild trust with parents, teachers and students alike, and we put all of our focus on teaching and learning. We ditched things that didn’t work or distracted from that core purpose, redesigned the curriculum so that it met the needs of students more closely, and built consistency in our approach to teaching and learning. Rebuilding trust and a real focus on relationships and wellbeing meant that we could make rapid progress, and we were delighted to see results rapidly improve and we came out of Special Measures within 12 months.

In September you started your third year at Bolton School. What do you hope to achieve before the summer holidays?

I will continue to explore new and emerging technologies and how they can aid teaching and learning. We have started to look at virtual and augmented reality in the classroom and how that can aid learning, and we have some promising early results. I am hoping to work with some other schools to produce some training resources for teachers that will help them learn to use technology effectively in the classroom in a range of subjects by focusing on pedagogy and current research on how students learn. I am also interested in exploring the research evidence on how to change long-term memory and how we use these techniques with students. This is something that I think technology can greatly help with, so it will be interesting to see how this can be developed.

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