At the end of the corridor, on the right, just before the doors leading outside, a new door has appeared at Howard Junior School. Every child in the school recognises that door. It’s blue, it has "police box" written above it, and if that wasn’t clue enough, there is a life-sized cardboard cut-out of a Dalek stood outside.
That’s right, Howard Junior School has a Tardis.
More than just a hallway
Except, it’s not a Tardis really. Through the door, there is an immersive corridor of Doctor Who wonders. The theme song plays, the lights throb from green to blue, a huge video wall plays the opening credits, on the wall are past and present Doctors…and the toilet doors are now Tardis doors, too.
Clearly, this has not come cheap. So why would the Norfolk school spend such a huge sum of money on the corridor that leads to its digital classroom?
“Experiences are worth it,” explains headteacher Gregory Hill. “We’re a digital generation, it needs to have music, sound, lighting effects, their generation are used to that, but it excites them and makes them want to learn.”
An edtech regeneration
Hill is fully committed to edtech. Howard Junior School is also home to virtual reality headsets, 3D printers and one iPad for every pupil in a class of 30. He has also built a mini-Harry Potter world and a glow-in-the-dark library.
“There is a strong digital vision for the school, but it is a multifaceted approach, and you can’t lose things [like traditional learning]," he says. "But it doesn’t mean you can’t gear up strongly in other areas. There are lots of opportunities to take part in arts projects, forest schools, sports programmes as well. You have to develop the whole child”.He’s keen to stress the Tardis is not a gimmick that sits passively away from the learning. The video wall has the ability to show any landscape that a class needs and this is built into lessons.
“After all, the idea of a Tardis is that it travels to different localities”, says Hill. “At the moment, the children are looking at the tropical rainforest, so we can turn that whole wall into the rainforest, with sounds of rainforest and animals walking across. Just like if you went out of the Tardis and explored different areas.”
The future is now
Is the impact of the Tardis – and the other digital environments Hill has built – worth the thousands of pounds he has paid out at a time of tight budgets? Edtech is a controversial area, with accusations of high costs and low learning return. But Hill says his approach is cost-effective and his school manages its budget carefully to make sure things like this can happen.
“Some trusts may have overinflated salaries for CEOs, but we don’t have that,” he says. “We want to spend our money on the children. But we’re cost-effective here, and children come first.”
“We want to make sure everyone participates in digital learning,” he explains. “[Companies] all want digital people with digital skills. Without that they’re seriously disadvantaged when they apply for jobs. There needs to be a driving force [in schools] and more championship. There isn’t enough [of that].
“Sometimes, the teaching profession needs to be woken up to the future.”
Ella Jackson is a member of the Tes editorial team