Since schools were forced to close their doors, teachers and parents have been working with varying degrees of success to keep the UK’s 10 million-plus students education on track.

Gavin Cowley has been in education since 1994, from teacher, to head of science and deputy head, now an Education Consultant working with over 220 schools in London and the North East.

Here he looks at effective leadership during the current lockdown, and the part GCSEPod can play in not just keeping student learning on track but helping schools successfully adapt to blended learning remotely.

Click here to watch Gavin’s recent GCSEPod webinar and download the supporting Q&A sheet.

If any good is to come out of the current coronavirus pandemic it is perhaps that platforms like GCSEPod will help schools to see how personalised learning and true learner-centred instruction can be accomplished.

Starting as a science teacher in the 1990s, Gavin soon raised through the ranks to become Deputy Head and helped lead his school out of serious weaknesses before setting records for the school’s outcomes in the last two years of its life.  In the early 2000’s he led York High School’s sports specialism, gaining recognition as one of the country’s leading sports colleges and being awarded the National Innovation Award in 2012 by the Youth Sports Trust.  At the same time Gavin led the school to outstanding outcomes, exceeding FFTD by 22% and 11.  More recently he has used these experiences to guide other schools out of Ofsted serious weaknesses and special measures as an independent education consultant, where he’s supported over 200 schools on leadership and teaching approaches. This included going back and supporting York High in 2019 to add 0.67 to their Progress 8 in just 6 months of weekly sessions.   As a long-time PiXL partner, he has also just been appointed the new Secondary Regional Leader for the north and east of England for PiXL for September 2020.

Gavin Cowley

Education Consultant

If we thought 2019 was a bad year as a tsunami of extreme weather unfolded across the globe, nothing could have prepared us back in January for the cataclysm that 2020 was preparing to unleash.

Now we find ourselves in lockdown fighting the unseen enemy that is Covid-19.

Since schools were forced to close their doors, teachers and parents have been working with varying degrees of success to keep the UK’s 10 million-plus students education on track.

We have all been forced to step into unknown territory and strike out in different directions as we seek to find the best way of working until the schools reopen.

When they do, it will be a vastly different landscape, however. Until a vaccine becomes available the way in which our children are taught will, by necessity, be very different to how it was.

Tough times are defining moments in any leader’s career. Some will rise heroically to the occasion, others will fall by the wayside. These extraordinary circumstances require exceptional leaders and remarkable leadership.

Leaders that will succeed will have a clear vision, see the big picture and know they can’t shoulder the burden alone. 

Those that succeed in stepping up and taking responsibility will have a clear vision, communicate honestly, listen to people’s pains and frustrations, and be able to look at the bigger picture. They will also be those who know they can’t shoulder the burden alone.

One of the key skills of leadership is understanding that you are not the best at everything, and knowing when to place your trust in those who are more competent in certain areas.

I can envisage a future that looks very different from our past in all spheres of work and working practice.


Many schools have over the past few weeks successfully implemented tried and tested online learning platforms like GCSEPod. Many have sadly not. But if the last few weeks has taught me anything, it is the vital role that revision and learning packages such as GCSEPod can and must play in helping educate our children not just during the lockdown but going forward.

Lockdown has also reaffirmed the value of leadership in these times as I listen to widely varying experiences of parents and teachers from different schools.

I am guilty until recently of being confused about GCSEPod’s USP. I thought of it as just an online revision tool that used podcasts, like the ones I listen to on the BBC. Great if I want to catch up on the news, an interview or a concert, but not something I could see capturing the imagination of your average cynical teenager.

A Pod isn’t simply a podcast

A Pod isn’t simply a podcast, it’s in fact a short three-five-minute audio-visual animation written by subject specialists and voiced by professional artistes. They are clear, concise and engaging. I know because I have watched over 200 of them in the last few weeks!

I discovered that GCSEPod can be used as a teaching tool. Assignments can be set and assessed using multiple choice questions which can stand as tutorials. It can be utilised for flipped learning by directing pupils to a limited number of Pods for upcoming work. It’s also a homework tool where assignments can be set with questions that relate to recently covered work, or even from an earlier topic.

Freeing up teacher time…

One of the frustrations of many colleagues is the lack of engagement with homework and the burden of marking it. GCSEPod’s assessments take away that onus, freeing up time to analyse any issues and carefully plan for intervention. It is straightforward to see which students have done what and to give nudges where necessary.


Check and Challenge…

There’s more; it can be used diagnostically through the Check and Challenge questions. These help to identify common errors and misconceptions that can arise as pupils’ progress through tiered and differentiated questions. This will be invaluable for when GCSE students finally return to school.

But there is vital opportunity to have diagnostics done before pupils potentially even return to school.  Teachers can then start plugging the learning gaps and really personalise lessons in what almost certainly will be smaller groups in the medium term.

They have everything…

There are English and maths workbooks that can be used on and offline that help to build less able students’ confidence.

Postcards and certificates reward success and there are templates for these. There is an easy guide to appointing a GCSEPod staff lead as well as Key Stage 4 student ambassadors, and helpful information on how the platform can be integrated into revision.  I would encourage schools to be considering this now for any exams they might stage in-house in the Christmas term, for example.


GCSEPod will help schools to see how personalised learning and true learner-centred instruction can be accomplished….

Sadly, some schools are better than others at recognising the need to move with the times and motivating their staff to do so. I have lost count of the times I have been to schools and heard senior leaders when asked about the progress of a new learning initiative respond with ‘all of the middle leaders are aware of it. I have emailed it to them.’

I know in that instant that nothing will be different. You cannot lead people by or via email and expect positive change to happen. It won’t.

GCSEPod is an incredible learning tool. But it can only be as good as the people charged with overseeing its effective use. Without ‘buy-in’ there can be no change. Without clear leadership, anything, no matter how good, can become just another thing.

People need to know what’s in it for them. Why will it be of benefit to my school, my teaching, my impact?

Imagine someone in your school trying to introduce a new initiative and beginning with, ‘right, we are going to change X and start Y.’ You can almost hear the chorus of groans. No matter how good the ‘new thing’ is, it will struggle to make its mark.

But once the ‘why’ is understood and a clear vision communicated, staff will be sold on it. The ‘how’ and the ‘what’ will then follow relatively easily. Surprisingly, some leaders neglect to even mention the ‘why’ at all.

So why GCSEPod?…

It has to start with a belief that you do what you do to improve your students’ life chances. That that is what motivates everyone on your staff. This has to be the ‘why’ for GCSEpod.

The bottom line is that sometimes we overcomplicate leadership and the art of teaching. We forget that everything we do to bring success to the school is built on the foundation of strong relationships.


Given the choice between a teacher with good subject knowledge and poor relationships and one with weaker speciality understanding and strong affiliations, I will take the second every time. You can always work on the subject knowledge. Get it right with a class and they will walk through fire for you. The same goes for your staff.

This is because if they buy into you and your vision for the future, the students will too.

Invest your time now, explore the product and draw up a plan. Investing now will save a huge amount of time in the future…

So, what will your leadership of the introduction of GCSEPod, or any initiative, look like?

You need to talk to people about important decisions. That could be the launch or even relaunch of GCSEPod. Start with the why, the vision, and maximising the life chances of students.  Perhaps arrange a call with your leadership team to talk this through. Certainly call your middle leaders, or meet with them if you can do so safely in school.

Ask them to spend a day exploring GCSEPod, particularly for their subject, to draw up a plan that covers how this could be used by teachers and students, how it could be advertised and monitored, who could lead on it in their area, how assignments could be used to inform planning and how this resource can augment what you are already doing.  Meet with them to follow this up and iron out the detail, schedule in meetings to review use and impact, and make sure they are planning to measure it.

At this time that ‘why’ might be to equip current Year 10’s so that if a second wave of coronavirus strikes then you have secure systems in place to effectively teach remotely. Or it could be to set assignments, see performance and, of course, guide planning for when schools do return.

If there is hopefully no second C-19 phase, GCSEPod’s material can be used for flipped learning and for homework to consolidate understanding. It can be used for the students who are hard to reach or in alternative provision. Perhaps now is a time to look at properly innovating and doing things differently that might have taken much longer in normal circumstances.


The coronavirus crisis is demonstrating how important technology is in times of uncertainty and change. The next test is for strategic leadership teams to reinvent their school for the better and offer more certainty now and going forward.

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“I can’t speak highly enough about how helpful the GCSEPod team were throughout the whole process. Most importantly, teachers and students have found the resources relevant, excellent, and easy to use.” 
Ian Lee, Yew Chung International School of Shanghai, China