Home Schooing & Beyond
St Paul’s Catholic College in Sunbury-on-Thames only introduced GCSEPod two days before the nationwide coronavirus lockdown came into effect, but the online learning platform quickly proved itself a home schooling success. And the award-winning digital publisher is integral to the college’s plans for the autumn term too, as it seeks to promote independent and blended learning.
St Paul’s Catholic College
St Paul’s Catholic College is a 11-18 Sixth Form College located in the heart of Sunbury On Thames. St Paul’s has been providing Catholic Education for the Diocese of Westminster since 1988.
With a background as a PE teacher, it’s perhaps no surprise to learn that Andy Walsh has a well-honed competitive streak.
When coronavirus closed the nation’s schools from March 20, the deputy head’s determination really came to the fore.
Just days before the country went into lockdown, St Paul’s Catholic College in Sunbury-on-Thames signed-up to the award-winning digital learning platform, GCSEPod.
The plan had been to roll out the service covering more than 27 GCSE and IGCSE subjects, from the start of the 2020 autumn term.
But as it became increasingly apparent that the UK was set to implement extraordinary measures to slow the spread of coronavirus that would include the closure of all schools, Andy and his staff team prepared St Paul’s to meet the unprecedented challenge of continuing to educate its 1,200 students.
At the heart of that plan for Years 10 and 11 lay GCSEPod, which helps deliver a smarter learning experience to secondary students through its unique information-packed and visually appealing three to five minute teacher-written Pod videos, that can be watched on or offline on mobiles, tablets and PCs.
Andy recalls: “We knew we needed to do something. We were already using a couple of other online learning tools in maths and science with great success, and staff in other departments were asking if there was anything they too could use, which was the reason we had already been looking to introduce GCSEPod from the autumn term.
“We had been impressed not just with the range of subjects covered and the opportunities offered to develop blended learning by combining online and face-to-face classroom teaching, but the way the information is presented to students in what are very clear, concise and graphic-led Pods that you can watch over and over again on any smart device.
“When it became obvious that we were headed for lockdown, GCSEPod offered us the ideal online solution with its huge breadth of material, ability to see at a glance who is and isn’t engaging with work so you can intervene really quickly, ready-made assignments, and Check and Challenge, which helps you assess students’ knowledge and grasp of a subject.
“It was the Wednesday before lockdown that we got GCSEPod, and by Friday, March 20, we had already rolled it out to staff, students and parents. The speed with which GCSEPod was able to move and we were able to get information out to everyone thanks to the ready-made resources they provide, was incredible.”
It was then that Andy’s competitiveness came into play.
He didn’t just want St Paul’s to have access to GCSEPod – he pictured the college becoming a super user.
And his students didn’t let him down. With 2020’s GCSE exams abandoned in favour of estimated grades, it was left to St Paul’s Year 10’s to prove the online learning platform’s worth.
A staggering 63,375 Pod were watched in just 14 weeks!
In the 14 weeks between March 20 and July 1, the 180-strong cohort notched up a staggering 63,375 Pod views, quickly catapulting the college from zero to the most successful based on usage figures of the 212 schools across the southern region who subscribe to GCSEPod.
English literature topped St Paul’s own table with followed by humanities and then science.
It is evidence, Andy says, both of students thirst for knowledge and success, and how engaging and relevant GCEPod’s content is for today’s digital generation who have grown-up with rapidly advancing technology.
St Paul’s was formerly St Teresa’s Girls’ Convent School. In 1975 the Cardinal Godfrey Catholic Boys’ School moved on to the site, and in 1988 both establishments merged to form St Paul’s.
It is not your typical Surrey school and is culturally mixed with over 36 languages spoken at home.
As Andy says: “We are not a leafy, suburban Surrey school.”
But appearances can be deceptive. St Paul’s is rated outstanding by Ofsted, and its maths department is regarded as one of the best in the country. For the last four years, St Paul’s has been in the top 10% of schools nationally for Progress 8, and its Attainment 8 is well above average at 52.1%, compared to the standard for England of 46.7%.
Around 80% of students go on to university with the remainder taking up apprenticeships in areas like engineering.
The school’s ethos is ‘every student, every subject, every grade.’
GCSEPod fits in with St Paul’s desire to do the best it can for its students and, going forward, to develop independent and blended learning – both top priorities from the start of the 2020-21 academic year.
“For our older students, GCSEPod is playing an important part in helping to develop their independence and also our approach to blended learning, which is something we had been encouraging using the online resources that have already been available to us, like Google and YouTube,” Andy explains.
“But we very much see GCSEPod as the way forward for us where home learning can be effectively mixed with face-to-face classroom time. The success of GCSEPod during the lockdown has shown just how enjoyable students have found using it, and it has been wonderful to watch their independent learning develop.
“Now we have GCSEPod it will mean that, for example, students could be learning Frankenstein in class in English literature, with the teacher able to assign Pods to watch that will not only help answer any questions they have in an appealing and informative way, but reinforce what they’re being taught.”
Andy says GCSEPod will be vital in other ways too as schools across the UK learn to adapt to the new education ‘norm’ as the fight against coronavirus continues.
St Paul’s Catholic College’s plans for September include a return in some lessons to what Andy calls “old-fashioned teaching, and by that I mean the teacher stood at the front of the class talking at the students.
“We are very dynamic in the way we teach and interact with students, but unfortunately we won’t be able to continue with that approach in subjects like PE, art, DT and the sciences. But this is where GCSEPod will shine in class as we will be able to use it to not only add interest for students, but help teachers with their lesson planning.
“Knowing we have GCSEPod has helped ease teacher anxiety about what the new academic year will bring, and I know most of my staff have already used the platform to help plan lessons through to Christmas that will promote independent and blended learning.
“To use a very Catholic phrase, GCSEPod has been a Godsend for us. I would 100% recommend it. It’s proved an outstanding success during lockdown, and for students, staff and parents it’s exactly what we were looking for.
“It has given teachers the time and confidence they needed to plan exciting and enjoyable lessons; our students the support they required to keep their studies going and promote independent learning; and parents the assurances they were looking for as regards their child’s education.”
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