James and Natalie

James and Natalie Culley
Director of Digital Operations & EPQ co-ordinator
The London Design & Engineering University Technical College
London, UK

London, Design & Engineering on creating the school of the future, today

James and Natalie Culley are a husband and wife team on a mission to enrich lessons by teaching students to apply the latest technology to real life situations and projects.

The London Design & Engineering University Technical College is a student-focused, high-tech school creating the next generation of confident, independent and work-ready individuals.

“The ethos behind a UTC is to provide an alternative teaching environment in terms of our approach to education. We like to call it disruptive education,” says James.

The school day runs from 9am to 5pm to help prepare students for a usual business day. They don’t have a uniform and students get to wear a suit of their own choosing. Teachers are called by their first names. These might be small differences but alongside the challenging curriculum, this new technical education is academically and vocationally rewarding for both students and future employers.

James is the Director of Digital Operations. His focus is working with external companies and creating partnerships that bring knowledge to the school. James also directs the overarching united school theme. A new theme is set every term, e.g. it could be water, sustainability or future cities. “From that term, whatever subject are we’re in, we’re working towards the same thing which is sponsored by employers.”

Natalie is the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) coordinator and a personal coach to Year 12 students. Students at LDE are encouraged to do an extended project to give them the edge over others going into further education or the workplace.

“Most schools go down the dissertation route but we believe this is an old-fashioned academic approach,” says Natalie. “We’re very much about creating something, that might be an app, website or 3D model. Students work on employer briefs to create those artefacts. If they can demonstrate that they have worked with technology like SAM Labs, then that’s going to give them a head start.”

“It’s important because specific technology isn’t actually mentioned on the curriculum specs,” adds James. “Engineering is set up for traditional lathes, etc. EPQ projects give us an opportunity to say we can use technology such as SAM Labs and teach part of the curriculum using those tools.”

SAM Labs has been incorporated into lessons at LDE from day one and is being used within the areas of computing, science and mechatronics.

James says: “SAM Labs kits are so accessible. You spend half an hour showing a teacher what to do and boom! Off they go.”

SAM Labs is frequently used to bring extended projects to life. In 2017, LDE students took part in an industry challenge to ‘light the Thames’ as part of their EPQ. They came up with the idea to create a light show on London Bridge powered by social media. A printed model of the bridge was created using 3D printers. SAM Labs enabled people to tweet an address and change the colours of the lights.

“The concept - being able to tweet at addresses and change actions such as colour – could be developed into a larger real world project,” explains James.

In another EPQ project, students applied the SAM Tilt Sensor on everyday household objects such as a kettle. The idea was that family members could check on elderly relatives by seeing if there had been regular movement or use.

This year, students worked together on a project to promote wellbeing. They created a smart coaster that incorporated a pressure sensor. An alarm would sound if you hadn’t had a drink for 20 mins. The whole project was cross-curricular with students making the coaster out of MDF in the engineering workshop and then applying code in science. Another group of students used the SAM pressure sensor button on a chair to alert people when they had been sitting for too long.

James and Natalie are excited to be introducing their students to the possibilities of technology.

Natalie says: “One of our students who took part in the wellbeing project had previously struggled with technology and was more of a sport lover. However, he thrived in this project. That might change what he chooses to do. Maybe he’ll go on to choose a career in STEM.”

This is what drove them to join LDE.  James says “Every single day is different. The most pleasure you get out of any day is a student coming to you for help. When you see their smile after they grasp a concept you’ve explained. Or when a more able students comes to you with a project that blows your mind because they are already a professional level.”

Natalie agrees “I love seeing our students run with something and develop more than they think they’re capable of. We’re proud of the exceptional talent we have here.”