ESSA Academy


Essa Academy is a 900-pupil secondary school for 11 to 16 year-olds, located in the Lancashire town of Bolton, U.K. Essa opened in 2009 as the inaugural state-funded independent academy. Its vision is “all will succeed”.

The Essa Academy is nothing short of an education phenomenon. This 900-pupil secondary school takes most of its pupils from disadvantaged communities in and around Bolton, U.K., and while its predecessor was deemed to be a failure by the education regulator Ofsted, Essa is flourishing. In 2013, for example, 98 percent of the Academy’s Year 11 students achieved five or more A* to C grades at GCSE.

This transformation is primarily due to a remarkable shake-up in the way pupils are learning. Where the old school was all about dusty, outdated classrooms and old-fashioned teaching practices, the new academy is all about collaboration, socialisation – and above all technology. Indeed, technology is shaping the entire learning experience. 

Every teacher and student is equipped with an iOS device, for example, to support interactive learning and drive a more inspirational learning experience. Teachers and students use their iPads to record conversations in French and practice pronunciation, for example, or to film P.E. sessions and play back the video to help students improve their game.

Pupil welfare collaboration

However, there was another area of the Academy that was in need of improved collaboration: pupil welfare. A five-strong team of Student Welfare Officers work with Academy staff, parents/ guardians and students on pupil welfare. The team’s aim is to ensure that all children can access the education provided for them and support them to achieve their full potential. Abdul Chohan, a director of Essa, explains:

“Our surrounding community is ranked among the most economically disadvantaged in the country. Like any school, we need to safeguard the welfare of certain children and needed a secure platform for sharing content associated with child welfare and protection.”

Data security is the imperative. The Welfare Officers need to share, review, edit and approve a large amount of case content – both within the boundaries of the school and with external agencies, such as social workers, the police and healthcare professionals. This collaboration includes monitoring attendance, following up on absences, home contacts and attendance related issues. It involves multi-agency strategy planning meetings and case reviews and the team needs to work alongside the designated teacher for child protection and welfare.

“In the past, child protection data either sat in locked cabinets or on people’s hard drives,” says Chohan. “While this didn’t impact the quality of child protection in any way, it did add a considerable degree of pressure and extra workload to the already hard-pressed team.”

Huddle: cost-effective, low risk route to secure collaboration

It was Huddle’s strong penetration into the government space that first caught Chohan’s eye:

“The vast majority of UK central government departments already rely on Huddle for secure, cross-firewall collaboration and the cloud model offers a cost-effective, low risk and easy-todeploy solution. Huddle is also intuitive and so it’s easy for our Welfare Officers to learn and use.”

Essa was live on Huddle in just a few days. The Welfare Officers use the best-in-class cloud content collaboration service to share case data associated with individual pupils. Among many features, they can open, view, and edit files with complete version control. They have the flexibility to engage in conversations around case files before submitting requests for approvals. Crucially, Welfare Officers can also control who has workspace access by assigning individuals to teams and setting permissions.

External agencies can also be invited into the Huddle workspaces on a read-only basis. For example, a social worker can receive a link to a workspace which, once accepted, allows them to review case notes and progress a child welfare case. This degree of collaboration would have been unheard of before. 

“Other file sharing solutions like Dropbox or Google Drive do not offer the degree of data security we need. Our overriding goal – besides supporting the welfare of students – is to adhere to the Data Protection Act. Huddle ensures we do,” Chohan explains.

Secure child welfare management via the iPad

Mobility is central to the solution. Using the Huddle for iPad app, Welfare Officers can organise, manage and track projects from their iPads, wherever they are. They can enter case notes in realtime when in meetings with individual students, for example, edit and approve case information during a lunchtime break or work on individual cases from home.

“Huddle’s secure mobility ensures the Students Welfare Officers spend less time at their desks, and more time preparing a personalised welfare situation for each pupil,” continues Chohan.

Huddle has transformed the way child welfare is managed at Essa. The case monitoring process is now faster, every agency discipline is involved in the case assessment and outcome, and nothing is missed. 

“Huddle is helping Essa to develop better relationships with the children. Everyone involved in child protection – including the police and social workers – can collaborate in a secure, easy to use environment. There are fewer paper-based processes and Huddle has been immensely popular with the team. Huddle is transformational,” concludes Chohan.

This transformational impact has not gone unnoticed by other departments. The Academy’s human resources (HR) team, for example, is using Huddle to collaborate securely on subjects like performance-related pay and other confidential HR activities. Chohan also has a vision for parents to one day access to confidential behavioural reports and other confidential information on their children via Huddle.