Sunnyfields school – Microsoft 365 for Education
A case study in keeping students learning through the pandemic, while complementing one school’s much-loved ethos
Based outside of Doncaster town centre, Scawthorpe Sunnyfields Primary School is the ‘second home’ to 326 pupils, oversubscribed in the community, and – thanks to strong investment in staff training and development – enjoys low staff turnover, which in turn brings valuable consistency to pupils’ learning.
When the first Covid-19 lockdown happened in March 2020, a chief concern for headteacher Dave Richardson was to ensure nothing compromised the unique, and much-loved outlook at Sunnyfields, as it’s known locally.
“As well as subject knowledge, with maths and English being central to our teaching, we have six core characteristics of effective learning – our ‘Sunnyfields Six’ – at the heart of everything we do,” said Dave.
“The children helped develop and name them. They’re Pippa Problem Solver, Richie Resilience, Izzy Independence, Chloe Creative, Connie Communicate, Tim and Tom Teamwork.
“These are skills and traits that are crucial for learning, for secondary school, and for life beyond school, no matter the job our pupils may find themselves in.”
And so, it was critical for Dave that all remote teaching and learning technology complemented Sunnyfields’ approach. And that technology to help with this also supported the school’s principles.
Along came AdEPT Education, and Microsoft 365 for Education.
“When I ring AdEPT for help, I get straight through. The value of this cannot be overstated – it’s crucial to schools, now more than ever.”
– Dave Richardson, Sunnyfields Headteacher
“The interesting thing for us was that we were already using Microsoft Teams when lockdown hit,” explained Dave.
“And by a twist of fate, I’d spent time last year in Australia researching educational practice where I’d been blown away by the way schools over there were using technology to enhance teaching and learning.
“We were already working with AdEPT Education when lockdown happened. And so, being a big believer in finding solutions rather than problems, I turned to them and said ‘this is what I want to do – can you help me get there?’.”
AdEPT Education very much shares Dave’s outcome-led approach to solving problems. So with the help of Business Development Director James McEwen – who has known Dave since 2008 – the two organisations worked together to take Sunnyfields from using Microsoft Teams casually, to becoming fully functional on Microsoft 365 for Education.
“The process of rolling out the platform couldn’t have been simpler,” said Dave. “It started with a phone call to AdEPT Education’s helpdesk, and within a day we were set up. Claiming the funding from the Department for Education was straightforward too – but one thing we’re still addressing is a lack of help with devices for children.
“It probably took a couple of weeks to bed in – and of course, we’re still learning. I can say this now looking back in November, but I can’t lie – that period in March to July was probably the most challenging time in my career.
“Having to make decisions in the moment, having to handle changes in advice every day – and having to communicate the changes effectively to my team, and to pupils and the wider school community – that was stressful.
“But six months on, and with our problem-solving heads on, we’re still rising to the challenges and have seen so many positive stories emerge.”
“At the very start of the first lockdown, I taught myself how to live stream on YouTube to run assemblies. But I quickly found that this didn’t offer the same degree of interactivity – so I love how the Microsoft platform has helped us keep up a much-loved part of our regular routines.”
– Dave Richardson, Sunnyfields Headteacher
The way Sunnyfields is using Microsoft 365 for Education is genuinely creative. And it all started with staff training.
“Once it was set up and we’d had AdEPT Education’s training, we passed this new knowledge onto staff, who in turn used our computing lessons to train pupils,” said Dave.
“This continued until the start of the summer holidays, so when we returned in September, we came back in full force.”
And that ‘full force’ could inspire other schools. Because as well as using the platform for everyday administration, calls, messages and file sharing, Dave and his staff have used it in more unexpected ways.
“I run school assemblies on Teams,” he explained. “And I use the chat function so children can interact with me and other staff. This is important as it means we can run school assemblies as close to normal possible. For example, it’s ideal for our ‘Special Mentions’ assembly on a Friday, where we give awards for great work.
“At the very start of the first lockdown, I taught myself how to live stream on YouTube to run these assemblies. But I quickly found that this didn’t offer the same degree of interactivity – so I love how the Microsoft platform has helped us keep up a much-loved part of our regular routines.”
Another lateral way Sunnyfields’ use of the platform that might interest other schools is how it’s responded to ever-changing attendance.
“There have been occasions when teachers have had to self-isolate at home because they might have been exposed to coronavirus, but they’re otherwise fine to work,” added Dave. “And so, we’ve asked those teachers to continue teaching their children through Teams from home while the children followed their teacher’s instructions on screen in class. We also provide remote learning through Teams with a dedicated teacher for children who are self-isolating.“
“By doing it this way, it means pupils don’t miss out on learning. And also – I think this isn’t mentioned enough – teachers don’t miss out on teaching, and doing what they love to do.”
Behind the scenes, the relationship between Dave and AdEPT Education has grown, with James’ team having given parents training on the platform, too. And it’s for that reason that Dave had plenty to say to other schools about the platform, and about AdEPT Education.
“The DfE now insists that schools provide remote learning and have made it possible to use one of these platforms – either the Microsoft one we’re using, or the Google one. I have one piece of advice for other schools about this: ‘don’t be intimated by them.’
“Of course, I know it’s easier said than done. But by that I mean that one question that often comes up is ‘where will I find the time to set it up?’
“No technology is a substitute for a teacher, but I can honestly say that this is one of the few technology projects that doesn’t take an enormous amount of time to roll out. And any time spent on setting it up you more than get back.
“The test of a good technology partner is the support. It’s no good having a company set you up on something before disappearing and leaving you to it.
“With AdEPT Education, we got precisely the opposite. They’re proactive and forward-thinking – and always focused on helping me achieve my crazy ideas.
“And most importantly of all, when I ring them for help, I get straight through. The value of this cannot be overstated – it’s crucial to schools, now more than ever. Thank you to James and his colleagues at AdEPT Education.“
To discuss technology for your school’s remote teaching and learning, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.