Age range: 3–19
Number of pupils: 64
Self-review framework lead: Katie Gallagher
Self-review framework completion: Spring 2006 ending with ICT Mark assessment in summer 2006

Breakspeare School is a Hertfordshire Local Authority community special school for pupils who have severe learning difficulties. Headteacher Gill Williamson says the school’s aim is to “provide our pupils with as many opportunities as possible in order to have dignity in their lives. ICT is important to us in preparing our pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life.”

It was Katie Gallagher, the ICT subject leader, who drew the headteacher and governors’ attention to Becta’s self-review framework in 2006. Then, as now, ICT was the biggest area of spending in the school’s curriculum and there was immediate enthusiasm for an externally validated review of this area.

“We thought that an externally devised system of review, coupled with the independent accreditation of the ICT Mark, would inject more rigour into our review than if we had tried to assess ourselves based on our own criteria,” says Gill.

“The governors and I have always been concerned about securing value for money and about making wise, longer term decisions when large amounts of money are involved. We welcomed the self-review framework and the time we spent on it was hugely valuable.”

Gill was also concerned to ensure that her reports to governors about the school’s use of ICT should be well informed.

“How do governors really know about difficult areas such as ICT which is complex in itself and changing very rapidly? It was good to be able to tell them that what we were doing with ICT met the high standards set by the self-review framework and that we had reached the national standard required for the ICT Mark”.

Katie Gallagher led the review process though frequent consultation with the staff and with the headteacher. Classroom visits were central to the process to check on the impact of the school’s policies for ICT and the outcomes for pupils, and Katie was given some time released from teaching to co-ordinate the review and visit classrooms. She worked closely with Gill, who as headteacher was often in classrooms observing ICT in practice. Both Gill and Katie found that the self-review process forced them to question what they were doing with ICT and undertake more rigorous evaluation of their ICT resources and approaches. The review process has paid dividends, however, particularly in helping to develop and improve the school’s long-term vision and budget planning.

Apart from major benefits within the school, Gill believes that a key outcome from using the self-review framework – and being awarded the ICT Mark – is the contact she has made subsequently with other schools with excellent ICT practice.

“I have learned a great deal from good, not to say visionary, practitioners in other schools. Visits to neighbouring schools with the ICT Mark has helped me to develop my vision for Breakspeare School and given me new purpose and direction.”

For schools currently considering embarking on Becta’s self-review framework, Breakspeare School offers the following advice:

•Once you have made the commitment to undertake a self-review of ICT, don’t underestimate the time that will be required to complete the process, and don’t penny-pinch on time and support that will be required.
•The self-review framework is a whole-school process with a considerable focus on leadership and management issues. Embarking on such a process is a great professional development opportunity for the key members of staff involved – working with the headteacher and senior managers gives them valuable insight into leadership and management.
•There are some areas of the self-review framework which need the back up of some good research. For example, the school needs to understand how pupils are able (or otherwise) to use computers at home. Some of this research can be undertaken before the full review process gets under way.
•If the self-review process is being undertaken during the winter months, make sure someone goes to BETT in early January. A day spent at BETT armed with some key questions from the self-review is very rewarding.
This small special school has really benefited from using Becta’s self-review framework and now finds itself at the centre of some stimulating discussions about making effective and innovative use of ICT. It hosts many visitors to the school and in 2007 was itself shortlisted for the Becta ICT Excellence Awards.