Network Learning & Communities

Siyabonga – An Innovation Project


One of the ways in which the DigiLit Leicester project is supporting schools in making use of technology to transform learning and teaching in Leicester is via ICT Innovation Grants. All BSF school staff can apply for funding to support projects that focus on the use of technology to benefit learning and learners, teaching and school community development.

We prioritise projects which focus on or are clear about staff development,  are clear and realistic about what will be achieved, and have put thought into sharing outcomes.

One of the successful projects was the Siyabonga project at Hamilton Community College. The project concluded on the 8th of March with a fantastic event which brought together students from two continents.  The videos below capture the excitement of the event and Laura Iredale, the music teacher at Hamilton Community College who proposed and made the project happen, tells us more:

#projectafrica set out to be an epic musical journey spanning 2 continents and 6,000 miles.

It ended up being the experience of a lifetime for everyone involved!

This story actually begins back in 2010 when I moved to South Africa to work for a charity called the COPT (the Community Outreach Programme Trust). The charity is committed to working in the townships of South Africa, with a focus in the areas surrounding Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal. Its aim is to establish sustainable projects within disadvantaged communities with a view to improving quality of life for people living there.

A number of community centres have been established to facilitate this goal, including, Lamontville and Marianhill – the centres participating in our project! These centres run weekly classes and activities which include youth groups, English lessons, music workshops, coffee mornings and crèches.

Whilst in South Africa I was amazed by the diversity of the people, cultures and musical traditions of the country. I was particularly involved in working with the Zulu community, running youth activities, holiday clubs and music workshops.

Although I was leading or teaching these classes, it became evident to me that I was learning so much from them – more about how to live life to the full whatever situation you find yourself in – and how to fully embrace the  emotionally and spiritually rich environment that they are a part of.

I left the country the following year in love with its people, its constant smile and its never-failing vibrancy!

It was this love of life and love of music that I wanted to share with my students at Hamilton.

Project Overview

Starting with teaching our children some traditional Zulu songs (African melodies, harmonies and rhythms which would challenge their concepts of Western music), to rehearsing with and getting to know people in South Africa (children 6,000 miles away who have the same love of music as our students but come from an entirely different background) –  culminating in the delivery of a trans-continental concert showcasing our student choirs and band and a South African choir over a live Skype link for the simultaneous performance of the concerts’ African influenced repertoire!

Learning about South Africa

Lamontville is home to one of the COPT community centres with a lovely group of young people. The youth were part of #projectafrica and we (both learners and staff at Hamilton) got to know some of them by learning about their lives.

We received fact files written by the children themselves and personal comments from the COPT volunteers who work with them every day and know them best.

We also wrote letters to them which I was able to take over to South Africa when I visited during February half term – some of our students found they had lots in common with the Lamontville guys…especially a love for football!

We had a general idea of the set list from the Hamilton end and this needed to be defined in South Africa. We had taken a number of video logs tracking our progress in lessons and band rehearsals and whilst over there I was able to share the videos with our South African counterparts – which resulted in lots of excitement and a bit of laughter at our attempt at Zulu accents and dancing!

Promoting the Project

We effectively used our ‘Music and Drama’ Twitter account to promote the project under #projectafrica. It became a platform for students to air their views on the project, to share photos and experiences, and for us to communicate important information, project updates, and rehearsal times.

The Live Event

We as the performers we acting as the audience for the South African performances and in turn, when we performed, they acted as our audience. It was a miraculous musical and technological feat!

We lost the internet connection only once during the concert but we filled in with another song and…we were back up and running and able to welcome back our South African friends with an enthusiastic round of applause at the end of the piece!

Specially invited guests included our Principal, the school governors, Kevin Ncube (BBC Radio Leicester reporter), and our BSF partners from Leicester City Council (who helped make this project happen with innovation funding).

Project Benefits

It was wonderful to see the many ways the project benefitted our young people. At Hamilton, we believe in developing the spiritual, moral, social and cultural understanding of our students and broadening their horizons!

We are committed to giving our students memorable experiences. Opportunities like #projectafrica enable them to become effective global citizens who feel that they can have a very real impact on the lives of others around the world.

This project really allowed our students to be part of something bigger than just themselves, gain an awareness of the struggles of others less fortunate than themselves and think outside the Leicester box! The connected and engaged with music and with the South African children in a way that was very emotional to witness.

I found #projectafrica was an amazing experience for the whole school and for me. The best bit was when we got to listen to the African children sing all their songs – Charlotte Lee Y7

Similarly, it was amazing to witness the effect this project had on the South African children’s lives.

These children are committed to making a better way of life for themselves and their families – they regularly attend the classes run at Lamontville and Marianhill community centres. However, it’s a catch 22 because there is no government funded schooling in South Africa. Even with the best will in the world, sometimes it’s just not enough to really make a difference and change their lives…with this connection they were able to experience more of the world than they had ever thought possible before. They were able to experience the joys of friendship with children their age on the other side of the world.

What Next?

After the resounding success of #projectafrica we were left on a high. The support provided by the BSF ICT Innovation fund was key in the delivery of this project and we intend to use the equipment purchased through the project for more exciting projects in the future. We have had the experience now of connecting with South Africa and we have seen how well it has worked – not only in the presentation of our concert, but in opening the eyes of many students both here and in South Africa, to the many possibilities and new horizons open to them as a result of the combination of modern technology and music.

We hope to run this project as a yearly event in school. Some of our students have also been inspired to visit South Africa and we hope to fundraise and take a small group out there in the near future.

Connected Libraries

Leicester City Council is organising and running an exciting project for secondary school librarians and Learning Resource Centre (LRC) managers, in partnership with De Montfort University’s Centre for Enhancing Learning through Technology (CELT). The LRC Connect project supports the Leicester Building Schools for the Future Programme ICT priorities Space & Place, CPD & Innovation, Networked Learning & Communities, and Information Management.

The initial event runs on Friday May 4 2012, and secondary schools across the city will be taking part. The event provides a great opportunity for school librarians to meet and network and discuss the latest thinking, research and practice. The hands on workshop brings together leading experts from across the UK to work with school LRC/library staff to focus on a range of issues, including:

• What is the role of the LRC in a digital age?
• What is the latest thinking around LRC design and use of space?
• What kind of digital search, evaluation and study skills do learners need?
• How are school libraries around the country meeting the challenge of ‘Google and Wikipedia by default’?

In addition to providing staff across the city with an opportunity to compare and share practice, the event provides an opportunity to reflect on the relevance and use of technology for learners and the relationship of their role and of the school library to digital environments.

Organisers & Speakers





Josie Fraser
Josie Fraser is a UK-based Social and Educational Technologist, currently working for Leicester City Council as ICT Strategy Lead (Children’s Capital). She leads on ICT for the City’s multi-million pound Building Schools for the Future programme, designed to raise learner engagement, achievement and aspiration, and deliver inspiring and effective community centred learning environments.

This project is one in a range of initiatives designed to make sure schools in Leicester are at the forefront in the use of Information Communications Technology (ICT) for learning.  Leicester aspires to be an online, connected learning city, and the BSF Programme is equipping our schools with world class technologies – and enabling Leicester City Council to support staff in developing the skills and confidence to match. The event is designed to support  staff working in school libraries and learning resource centres, who have a crucial role to play in supporting their communities in continuing to develop the confidence and skills necessary to access, evaluate and apply information.

Josie on Twitter @josiefraser

Rachael Guy

Rachael has worked in School Libraries for 12 years -7 at Merchant Taylors School  and 5 at Berkhamsted School – where she is Head of Learning Resources ( Libraries and Archives).  She has an appetite for new digital technology and social communication media within a learning development framework and pedagogy and my vision is to develop a 21st century dynamic learning environment.

Rachael will be talking about practical approaches and lessons learnt: New technologies and resources to support staff, faculties and learners

The talk will offer an insight into the work – pitfalls, challenges and achievements – Berkhamsted School are experiencing with digital literacy ( from KS3 – Sixth form)  and new technologies. Within the presentation I will focus and share best practice on the KS3 support framework, our future developments for KS4, and the strategy for Sixth Form. Across this framework I will refer to new technologies and resources introduced over the last two years alongside further plans for the future.

Rachel on Twitter – @berkholibrarian

Berkhamsted School Library blog





Richard Hall is the Head of ELT, based in the Directorate of Library Services at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. He is also a National Teaching Fellow (2009) and a Reader in Education and Technology (2010). Richard is a Research Associate in the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility at DMU. He is responsible for the academic implementation of ELT with the aim of enhancing the student learning experience.

Richard on Twitter @Hallymk1

DMU Learning Exchanges blog





Laura Taylor, BLib, MSc Econ., MCLIP, has worked throughout her 35 year career in children’s, schools and school library services. She has been involved in developing a number of new school libraries including her own in her last post at the City of London Academy, Southwark. She brings with her a wealth of knowledge and experience having visited numerous school libraries across the country and networking with colleagues via the School Librarians’ Network, her role on CILIP’s School Libraries’ Group, and as an SSAT Lead Practitioner and consultant for Academy Libraries. Her particular interests are in developing libraries at the heart of the school and she sees it as essential that school librarians seize the opportunities presented by digital technologies to ensure that their libraries are embedded in the curriculum and equipped to enthuse and engage students in their reading for pleasure and information.  She currently is working freelance as a library advisor/consultant with Taylormade Libraries.

Laura will be talking about Design issues and considerations in Learning Resource Centre/library physical and digital spaces.

Laura will be looking at examples of good and bad design/layout, helping us to consider what makes a good school library/LRC, and raising questions about how we can incorporate new technologies to develop our services and our roles as school librarians.

Taylormade Libraries





David White

David manages the University of Oxford  Technology Assisted Lifelong Learning unit and has worked at the intersection of learning and technology for many years. David researches the approaches students take when engaging with the web for their learning. He is interested in how the availability of content and the opportunity to connect online is repositioning the role of educational institutions.

David will talk about What students know they don’t know online.

Drawing on interviews undertaken with late stage secondary pupils this talk will outline some of the ways in which students are using the web to learn and to complete homework. David will describe what he calls the ‘Learning Black Market’, some of the concerns students have around the validity of information online and the fine line between collaboration and plagiarism when discussing homework in social media.