When I open my notebook, Showk Badat, the new principal of Gloucester Academy looks bemused.
He’s surprised I’m not recording our interview.
“Pen and paper, efficient and reliable,” I suggest.
He gestures around the room smiling, saying; “This is my paperless office.”
Now my jaw drops.
“This is your office?”
I’m genuinely stunned. The room has a large screen on the wall, a desk, a telephone and a laptop. And that is it. Nothing else. Not a scrap of paper anywhere.
Of course I shouldn’t really be surprised. This is the headteacher who transformed the results of a school in Bolton where he gave every pupil an iPad.
And the spanking new Gloucester Academy is a fitting environment for Mr Badat’s very 21st century vision. If my 12-year-old self had imagined the school of the future, I might have drawn something resembling Gloucester Academy.
The central open plan ‘heart space’ where pupils gather for assemblies and enjoy lunch - with a choice of cuisine from across cultures - resembles a slick airport foyer. Wall-mounted large screens flash announcements of pupil’s achievements. The heartspace is overlooked by the ‘bridge’ where like the captain of a large ship, Mr Badat has his ‘office’.
Not that he holds ‘offices’ in much regard.
“Spaces where people meet and form relationships are better. We have an excellent ‘heart’ space. If we can encourage people to interact more we will see better relationships. I’m not sure that offices are always the best place for that.
“My personalised space is on my device.”
It’s the language of IT firms of silicon valley, and Mr Badat is clearly part of a 21st century slick operation.
It’s the first time, for instance, that I have ever had to arrange a headteacher’s interview via a London-based public relations officer, from company Prospects, which runs Gloucester Academy.
Mr Badat aims to prepare his students for a future that we struggle to imagine.
He was officially appointed principal at Gloucester Academy in February, moving to the city from Bolton, his home town, where he was head at Essa Academy.
There he made headlines by issuing all of the school’s 800 pupils with an iPod touch, followed by an iPad.
There are lots of advantages to embracing technology he explained, for a start photocopying bills plummet.
“It enables teachers to monitor progress and address issues more quickly.
“And you can communicate with pupils who aren’t in the proximity.”
Standards were poor at the Essa Academy when he became principal there in 2009.
“It was the school that my dad didn’t send me to in 1973. I lived round the corner.” said Mr Badat who grew up in Bolton.
Instead he attended a local grammar school before studying chemistry at Sheffield University. He refuses to be drawn on the merits of grammar schools, saying only that he is not in favour of any form of selection at Gloucester Academy.
When he took on the post at Essa Academy only around a third of its pupils achieved the benchmark of five GCSES at A-C grade, including English and Maths. By the time he left that figure had doubled, and 100% were gaining five good GCSES.
“Improvement happened very quickly. The most important things was to liberate the creativity that’s innate within children and remove obstacles in front of them.”
Mr Badat talks about ‘obstacles of the mind’ ,and ‘obstacles of the system’
“We made sure everyone believes that they will succeed,” he said.
For instance he cited the example of children for whom English is not their first language. At Gloucester Academy around 20 to 30 different languages are spoken.
Lots of schools would provide extra English lessons, but he said, that means they fall behind and don’t have time to achieve their GCSEs. Instead, he suggested they should be given an iPad to support them, so that they learn English alongside maths, history or music.
“Giving out devices is not the easiest thing to do. There are obstacles such as e-safety and security.”
I ask, didn’t the children just play games on them and cruise facebook?
“They do that anyway,” said Mr Badat. “And our internet was filtered so that access to facebook and chat rooms wasn’t allowed.”
Now he’s determined to bring the “skills for the future” to Gloucester Academy.
“In my experiences of the young people at Gloucester Academy I have been blown away by their creativity their talent, confidence and humour.
“They are amazing young people here. We need to make sure that any barriers to their creativity are removed.”
“We are committed to developing their life chances.”
He wants to improve attendance by making the curriculum more exciting and from September more subjects will be on offer. An ‘enrichment’ period of one hour on Fridays will also enable every student to choose an activity which interests them.
Behaviour can be improved by addressing ‘impulsiveness’ and he is looking at introducing a restorative justice group and encouraginging the students themselves to mediate disputes.
And will Gloucester Academy students soon be carrying an iPad in their school bag?
“I would like that,” he said.
“There may be a time when we deploy devices on a one-to-one basis for our young people.There are many things to do before we get there.”
“All staff at the academy will have an iPad within the next few weeks to enable them to see the potential to work creatively in a mobile environment,” he said.
Removing barriers and unleashing and potential are his mantras.
“The world order has changed our young people will live in a world where they are competing on a global level.
“Our task is to prepare them for a world which does not yet exist.”
“They have got to be flexible workers got to be creative and be able to use technology in a very creative way to enable them to harness opportunities.”