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Case Study

School mentoring during the coronavirus lockdown

For Jonathan Wates, GCSEPod has been “worth its weight in gold” to the school mentoring programme he runs at Tavistock College in Devon – especially during the coronavirus lockdown.

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Tavistock College

Tavistock College is a mixed gender state-funded school in Tavistock, Devon, England, with students aged 11–18. They are an ambitious, successful and friendly school.​

Many people cite their school days as the worst time of their life.

But few are likely to have experienced the relentless bullying that Jonathan Wates was forced to endure whilst at secondary school.

Casting his mind back a quarter of a century, the Media Technician says there were three things that singled him out for the abuse that marked his teenage years.

“The first was my profound dyslexia and the fact that I wasn’t like others in my year group. The second was that my father was the head teacher of the adjacent primary school and a lot of the kids saw it as payback time. The third was that I’m eccentric, and I know I am.”

An IT specialist, 16 years ago he joined the team at Tavistock College in Devon.

His choice of workplace would be unremarkable except for one fact: Tavistock College was the scene of the bullying that has understandably left a lasting mark on his life.

The College, whose motto is ‘Together: we care, we challenge, we excel,’ is now a very different place to the one that Jonathan left all those years ago with a handful of GCSEs and BTECs, however. Rated ‘good’ by Ofsted, the College prides itself on being ambitious, friendly and successful.

Jonathan says: “The College has come a long way from when I was there as a child. It is a wholly different place, and there is so much care and support now. That is one of the College’s big strengths; the solidarity that now exists for the people who work and learn there.

“The College means a hell of a lot to me; I have a deep seated passion for it. I have stayed for 16 years because I know I would miss the place massively. There is such equity about the place. You go to some schools and there is a divide between the support team and the staff. It’s not like that at Tavistock.

“Everybody is appreciated, and that is the fundamental difference with how the school was when I was a child and how it is now.”

Still, walking through its doors again can’t have been easy for Jonathan. He has an interesting explanation as to why he chose to voluntarily return to the place of his teenage torment. “To rid myself of my demons,” he says matter-of-factly.

Like any educational establishment the College, which can trace its history back to 1552, has students with special educational needs (SEN), or who may be suffering from anxiety or low confidence.

Given the harrowing bullying he experienced in his youth and acute dyslexia which made learning a daily battle, Jonathan was the ideal candidate to head-up Tavistock College’s student mentoring programme.

 

Jonathan, who runs the group alongside his daily duties as the college’s Media Technician (“I do all the film and editorial work as well as running our own radio station and sorting out the glitz and glamour for any events we hold”), is currently working with 10 students who have a range of issues, including anxiety, low self-esteem, dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Jonathan has no formal mentoring qualifications, although he is currently training to be a bereavement counsellor. But what he does possess is first-hand experience, patience, understanding, enthusiasm, tact, and a desire to see others do well.

He readily admits that with no face-to-face interaction, keeping his group’s spirits up during the coronavirus lockdown could have been something of a challenge. But he has had one device at his disposal that has at least helped on the education front: GCSEPod.

He has been using the online learning platform with the group for the past nine months, and was recently made Tavistock College’s GCSEPod lead.

The learning tool with its short, information-packed and visually appealing three to five-minute teacher-written Pods that can be watched on or offline on mobiles, tablets and PCs, has been rolled out across the college for Years 8 to 12 as education is kept on track during this challenging time.

Jonathan has spent much of the lockdown ensuring both students and teachers can maintain remote access to GCSEPod and get the most out of it. His efforts haven’t been in vain. Since all schools across the UK were forced to close in March, Tavistock College has seen a dramatic increase in GCSEPod usage.

The latest figures from GCSEPod show the science department has been the best performing since the lockdown started in March:

Chemistry

Biology

Physics

Combined Science

English Lit

Only Year 7 isn’t utilising GCSEPod’s vast library of Pods covering more than 27 subjects – a position Jonathan is keen to rectify when some degree of educational normality returns to the College post-lockdown.

Jonathan is proud of how his mentoring group has embraced GCSEPod during this difficult time. “It’s been great to see how this group of students has been using it as a mobile tool. When they join the group they get given an Apple iPod touch and I get them to download certain apps, one of which is GCSEPod.

“The iPod isn’t a treat or a bribe. One of the biggest issues facing someone who is dyslexic, for example, is anxiety. From my own experience, I have terrible short-term memory, but my sequential memory is photographic.

“If I was to build a complicated model and somebody came along and broke it, I could easily rebuild it without having to look at the instructions, and that information will remain with me forever.

“But my ability to remember recent events is terrible. As the iPods are allowed into class it’s been great for my students, especially those who suffer with short-term memory problems, as they can just tap into GCSEPod and find the information they need. It means they don’t have to feel different or awkward in class, and for those students suffering from anxiety who find school a real challenge, it helps to take away some of that worry.

“Speaking as someone who suffers from anxiety and has first-hand experience of the fear of going into school, something like GCSEPod would have certainly helped me cope better.

“In my opinion, dyslexics need physical, not mental boundaries. To have something physical they can reach out to – not a teacher – like GCSEPod that is easy to access and can help raise awareness without repercussions, is worth its weight in gold.”

Jonathan was impressed with GCSEPod from the moment he first set eyes on it.

Whilst it is not specifically aimed at SEN students, dyslexics or those suffering from anxiety and low self-esteem, the way it is set up has made it an ideal tool for use with his mentoring group.ch:

“What first stood out for me was the bite-sized Pods. Speaking as a dyslexic, they are an easy way to digest information before moving on to the next topic. And the fact the Pods can be downloaded and watched and listened to at any time, was also a big attraction. It makes them readily accessible, which is important if you are struggling to learn or feeling anxious.

“Looking at the wider picture as the College’s GCSEPod lead, I believe that across the brand if it is used in the way I want it to be, the platform will have a significantly positive impact on how our students learn and on exam results.”

Both Jonathan’s parents were teachers and his dyslexia was picked up relatively early. He had a tutor to try to get him up to speed, but admits: “I didn’t react very well. I had to work twice as hard as everyone else, and at the time I didn’t appreciate the need to stick at it. It was only later I understood that.

“It’s something I impress on my mentor group. They need the details of what will happen further down the line if they don’t work hard in terms of getting a job and hopefully making something of their life.

“I tend to find that there is lots of empathy but that most people don’t understand the issues faced by those who are anxious, have low confidence or are dyslexic. That’s where I come in and where GCSEPod helps as a tool in showing them what is possible.”

His group is using GCSEPod as a mobile homeschooling tool, and for some the lockdown has given them a chance to shine. “I’ve got one Year 9 student who maybe has dyslexia but who was referred to me as he really hated writing and it was holding him back.

”He is scratching the surface, but we all know he has the ability to fly like the wind. So far he has streamed 128 Pods in the sciences and English as well as other core subjects, and for me it has been brilliant seeing the evidence of his GCSEPod usage.

“I have been using Google Classroom to keep in touch with my students. Assignments are being set by teachers. It is up to the students to work their way through them, but I am there to support and help if needed.

“I feel that with this particular student, he has bought into GCSEPod and its unique way of learning in a way that he wasn’t able to in lessons, and that the whole experience has become more exciting for him.

“If I can save these kids from suffering the pain I went through, then I will. And GCSEPod is proving to be invaluable in this context.”

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