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Empowering learners with iPad for personal learning

Honywood Community Science School has an innovative approach to skills and knowledge acquisition, with iPad supporting all students in class and at home.


Honywood is a state comprehensive for 11- to 16-year-olds in north Essex, United Kingdom. It is a high-achieving school — Ofsted have assessed it as ‘outstanding’ for its overall effectiveness.

The school is committed to constantly challenging students to learn for themselves. Teachers want them to become independent, mature, and empowered individuals, able to make excellent learning choices at school and career decisions in later life. There is commitment to high achievement, and particular focus on helping those who struggle with classwork.

"Honywood believes students need the best tools available to help explore their individual learning potential — in and out of class,” says head teacher Simon Mason. “We were looking for technology to use with students and we knew we’d found the right tool with iPad."

“We just knew it was what we wanted. iPad has an incredible ability to be your personal, mobile learning tool, ideal for supporting your learning choices and later career decisions.”

To help them acquire knowledge as individuals, the school believes students need to develop a firm but flexible learning platform in the form of general skills. Called HonySkills, these abilities include analyzing, collaborating, communicating, and problem solving. Progress is measured from 'Novice' to 'Master' and is analyzed regularly by teachers.

“We want to make sure every student has what is needed to achieve, in every subject specialism,” says Simon Mason. “So we don’t describe our curriculum as teaching Math, or English, or Science. We teach young people to communicate in writing, orally, physically, and graphically through learning Math, or English, or Science. iPad connects them to the world outside the classroom and helps to deliver those skills.”

“Immediately we could see that the iPad would enhance young people’s thinking and learning, not get in the way of it. We decided that if we were going to be serious about our learning vision, we had to give every one of our 1,050 students an iPad to use.”

— Simon Mason, Head Teacher, Honywood


All 1,050 Honywood students in every year group can now tackle their personal learning challenges using iPad in ways that suit them best: taking notes with Pages, presenting in Keynote, accessing online resources using Safari, sharing project work via email, and creating and managing content. They gravitate naturally into small, purposeful groups in the classroom, using iPad to collaborate and share tasks.

The school has a high-quality Wi-Fi network, so the device can be used everywhere on site. Children can also take their iPad home for independent study.

In Science, students are absorbed in using iPad to record lessons that they revise later to embed learning points. English classes are developing their own iBooks to enhance standard texts with hints and tips that are shared between students. In PE, younger learners are filming each other on trampolines with iMovie, annotating the video later to provide feedback. In Geography, children research online maps. Apps provide quizzes to support language learning, and provide instant feedback for all levels of Maths.

Year groups have shown markedly different ways of using iPad, teachers report. Younger learners tend to use apps more than others, in most lessons. Middle year students work more with each other, sharing resources and content. Older learners also use iPad productivity and organization functions and apps to manage project work and keep track of their ideas.

The choice of apps to download and use is up to the individual learner — as important as the other personal decisions made about learning resources needed. Honywood does provide guidance on education apps available, but students and families make the ultimate decision about which apps to download and use.

“iPad has had an observable effect on confidence and communication skills. Students are pushing at the traditional boundaries of learning the whole time, by finding new ways to get to grips with challenging concepts.”

— Rachel McGowan, Deputy Head, Honywood


Since introducing iPad, Honywood has achieved the best exam results in its history. 72.3 percent of the year group taking GCSE gained at least five grade Cs or better, including at least a C in both English and Math. This compares with 67.8 percent for the previous year’s equivalent performance.

Honywood has been at the center of a rigorous investigation into the effectiveness of iPad, conducted by the Family Kids and Youth market research group. Family Kids and Youth carried out focus groups and ethnographic research at Honywood, interviewing pupils, staff and teachers, and observing the ways in which different subjects and different age groups used iPad in learning.

The research found that communication and collaboration has improved since iPad was introduced. Students and parents can email teachers with questions. Pupils can collaborate on homework through FaceTime. Teachers can send out materials and information to pupils, monitor progress, and provide feedback.

Motivation to learn is another key iPad benefit. Students are more independent. They search and find information proactively, and do not rely on information in books or from teachers. iPad has also helped relationships between students and parents. It has been a talking point at home. There is more pride for students in showing off their work to their parents, while parents seem more engaged with that work.

Simon Mason says iPad has changed the dynamics of the school. Students now feel more empowered to speak their minds and query school decisions openly.

“I get emails all the time,” he says. “This empowerment is an important reason why attendance rates have risen while exclusions have fallen.”

iPad is also encouraging the school to reach out more, to share its experience with other schools from across the UK and Europe.

Simon Mason sees iPad as part of a new learning process that will deliver its real dividends in the long term. “I think it’s a five-year journey,” he says.

“Over that time, we should really see whether young people own their own lives, can navigate their lives, are up for challenges and innovation, and have confidence that they can always achieve more tomorrow than they have today.”

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