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Mark Sparvell: School Dinners, Ancient buildings and Innovation

by Mark Sparvell
Microsoft in Education Showcase Schools Program

Hello fellow education adventurers!

Date: January 2015

Location: Broadclyst Community Primary School Exeter, UK, EX5 3JG

Distance from home:  Redmond, USA to Devon, UK is 4732.589 miles


Continuing my journey across the globe , capturing the voices, images and insights from some of our amazing Microsoft Innovative Expert Educators and the leaders of the inspiring Showcase Schools. If you haven’t been following my journey on twitter, might like to add @sparvell to your follows.

In its latest Ofsted Report, Broadclyst Primary School was rated as grade 1 (outstanding) . With an international reputation for the use of ICT….but what is it really like? I decided to take a plane from London City Airport and taxi ride along the narrow lanes to see for myself.

The first thing that strikes a visitor as they approach Broadclyst is the beautiful postcard perfect English rural setting. There is a sense of ‘stepping back in time’ with thatched roof cottages pressed against freshly tilled fields. This little ancient school (one of the oldest state schools in England opening in 1810) could well hide away in this corner of the country.

But….it’s not! In fact nothing could be further from the reality. Broadclyst is engaged simultaneously in a range of activities large and small, local, national and international which push incremental and disruptive innovations in just the right mix.


The school is a combination of beautiful heritage stone buildings with a recently completed super modern flexible learning space almost ready to open. This new learning space has an industrial kitchen (the school provides a hot meal for 400+ each day), a fully functional café, an enormous climbing wall and a swag of super clever hidden display units and sound systems which when combined with floating walls means the area can be repurposed for a range of learning/ presentation and performance uses.

5 years ago the school converted to an Academy which provides a degree of autonomy over local decision making. The school is also a teaching school responsible for the onboarding and training of freshly minted teachers.

Broadclysts wowed the judges at the global forum in Barcelona last year with its ‘pitch’ for a seed funding to scale up a student led enterprise. I remember being in the audience and admiring the bravery of Principal, Jonathon as he live Skyped students from the school as part of his presentation. These kinds of considered risks must make up Jonathon’s ‘innovator’ DNA. Broadclyst won and the project now covers 1500 students in 30 schools across 20 countries.

Touring the classrooms I am struck by how difficult it is to find the teachers…they are all actively working alongside individuals and small groups in various locations. Use of microphones and speakers mean that teacher voices don’t dominate and multiple screens around classrooms with wireless connectivity mean that teacher/ student content can be shown from computers, scanners of document cameras. There was a lovely blending of analogue and digital forms of expression and concrete and abstract materials in constant use- the students moving between modes of representation without pause. OneNote and O365 provide the consistent glue for various devices and ensured that student work was available for learners and teachers alike. I was really intrigued by the structure of the year 6 ‘lecture style’ classroom…this worked extremely well with two classes, two teachers within a 1:1 and highly collaborative space.


I was taken to the digial media heart of the school where , in a very professional studio, two students prompted by their auto-cue grilled me about my learning habits and observations. The students create news streams and edit up various productions in this studio.


The school has high expectations of staff in their use of technology. Classroom diaries have been replaced by outlook and homework is set as an appointment. Classes are organized into mailing lists which include the head. Parent/ teacher conversations are welcomed via Skype.

You get a strong sense that while there is pressure, there is an equal measure of support.

Importantly, the students at Broadclyst are happy students. I stopped by a few groups to ask challenging questions about how they were learning and what made the approach effective and received delightfully polite but clear answers. There was a strong emphasis on students as content creators and curators of knowledge.


It has to be said, the catering for my small visit was of colossal proportions and I was required to purchase an additional seat for the flight back to London.

I would strongly recommend you visit the school website below and view the Principal, Jonathon Bishops video blog. You get a sense this is a ‘real’ school which is leveraging digital to create content which inspires, connects and entertains.

Many thanks to Broadclyst Principal, Jonathon, staff and students for hosting myself and my colleagues from Microsoft. It was terrific to see MIE Expert, Matthew Pitts.

Time for me to visit Silverton Primary School in Australia and share with you the mystery of the potatoes.






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