Fingers on the pulse of technology

iPads in the classroom? Putney High School GDST explains how technology and science is integral to school life

With the fourth industrial revolution already well under way, science and technology are now more firmly embedded in everyday life than ever before, but the pace of change is sometimes so great that it can feel hard to keep up, let alone stay one step ahead. Schools have an essential role to play in preparing children for this brave new world, and Putney High School GDST prides itself not only on having its finger on the pulse, but having its eyes fixed firmly on the future.

It is now old news that Putney was amongst the first schools to ensure that every pupil from Year 4 upwards be given their own iPad to use as an aid in lessons. What may be less well known is the extent to which science and technology have become an integral part of the culture within the school, in use in every department from art and DT to PSHE and careers. Computer coding is not an add-on, but an essential part of the timetable for all, and the fun doesn’t end there.

Children as young as Years 7 and 8 get together for a Young Engineers’ Club; they held a CSI day where Year 9 used ballistics, DNA fingerprinting and chemical analysis to solve a ‘murder’. There are code-breaking clubs where pupils are challenged to crack ciphers, from simple Caesar shifts or pictorial substitutions to polyalphabetic ciphers using imaginary alphabets and super-complex, multi-layered ciphers (the school regularly sends teams to the Alan Turing Cryptography Competition run by Manchester University). Science classes are enriched through the use of 3D printers, CAD in engineering and virtual reality – last year the school hosted the first Virtual Reality Schools’ Conference examining the potential impact and benefits of VR in education – and pupils work with robotics to understand how machines and artificial intelligence will impact all of our future lives. 

But it’s not just a question of studying ICT and STEM as subjects in their own right, after all, the beauty of technology so often lies in its application. This April, with the appointment of a new Director of Digital Learning and Innovation, Putney will be taking the next steps to making ICT even more relevant to pupils. The school is forging links with industry to offer students the chance to see the application of science and technology in some of the world’s most impressive settings. Visits to NASA, Imperial College and Williams F1 have been invaluable for showing girls the application of digital innovation in a real-world setting, not to mention setting students’ sights high when it comes to work experience placements, apprenticeships with the likes of the Dyson Institute of Technology, and applications to the finest US universities made under the guidance of the school’s dedicated US Universities Coordinator.

Being forward-thinking and preparing students for the rapidly changing job market of the future is key to Putney’s ethos and this was very much the message highlighted when the CEO of Microsoft UK, Cindy Rose, visited the school to inspire Year 8 pupils to continue with their study of Maths, and Computing at GCSE. Cindy pointed out that currently, only two out of every 10 technologists are female, a depressing statistic which many Putney High STEM enthusiasts are determined to change. Cindy reminded her audience that the internet started in 1992, and is only 26 years old, making you wonder what the world will look like another 26 years from now. Headmistress, Suzie Longstaff (herself the proud recipient of one of the first Diplomas in Computing from Oxford University) said, “When you consider that something like 80% of future careers will be roles that don’t even exist yet, you realise that it’s not just about studying maths, computing, science and engineering, but understanding the increasing prominence of technology in everyday life – ‘the Internet of Things’ – the unlimited global network of The Cloud and the countless computers and connected devices that go with it.”

Suzie reminded us that Mary Coombs, widely credited as being the UK’s first commercial programmer, was herself a Putney High alumna, but the school’s ambitions go much further than simply teaching students computing and STEM. Another inspiring talk, by Buzzfeed News Editor and Putney Alumna Louise Ridley, emphasised how a thorough grounding in these subjects doesn’t necessarily lead to a career in those fields, but can give you a crucial advantage, not just within the digital economy, but in almost any sector. As a successful journalist and winner of the Outstanding Digital Talent of the Year award, Louise was well-placed to inspire the more creatively inclined in the audience to follow in her footsteps. One thing’s for sure, wherever their ambitions lie, these students could not be better equipped to become the leaders and innovators of the future – there is no doubt that at Putney, the future is bright. 

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