The past 18 months has been a tough time for everyone involved in education – including the British International School Al Khobar (BISAK). But as Deputy Head and business studies teacher Lee Marsh explains, GCSEPod has helped make an unprecedented situation measurably better for students, staff and parents.
British International School Al Khobar
British International School Al Khobar is a British international school in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. It opened in 1977. It serves ages 3 through 18. As of 2020, the school had 850 students from about 50 countries.
By his own admission, Lee Marsh is a competitive man.
And never more so than when it comes to seeing the British International School Al Khobar’s name in lights – whether that be on the sports field, achieving matchless exam results, or beating 80-odd other schools to top the Gulf Region table for the number of GCSEPod’s watched during the last academic year.
Nearly 13,000 Pods across 23 subjects were watched by BISAK’s Year 9-11 students – just shy of a 50% increase on the 2019-2020 academic year.
Working in tandem with BISAK’s exemplary teaching and the determination and commitment of the establishment’s 51-strong Year 11 cohort, who strove to achieve the best they could, GCSEPod played a major role in helping the school achieve a 4% increase from 58.2% to 62.2% in the number of students achieving a grade 9-7 in last summer’s exams.
“We had 100 more entries from 366 in 2019-2020 to 468 in the 2020-2021 academic year, yet we achieved a 4% increase in that attainment,” Lee says. “It’s difficult for me to say that the reason we have had that success is all down to GCSEPod, but when I looked back through the Year 11’s Pod viewing history, the girl who came second with 263 watched achieved all grade 9’s in her GCSE’s. She got nine in nine.”
“I taught her for business studies, and I taught every student in that year for the subject, so I know being a teacher as well as a deputy head that we saw a massive increase in attainment last year; 9-7 has been the biggest one from our point of view, especially when I have spoken to the other teachers.
“There were a lot of things we used to help us achieve academically last year. But what I am a big fan of is data. And the data says we doubled our usage of GCSEPod on our previous year and also saw a rise in attainment.
“For our lower ability students GCSEPod was part of our intervention programme. We had three assessment windows last year for Year 11 and for those who were underperforming we gave them independent intervention strategies, and as part of that GCSEPod was on there.
“We were monitoring the usage of those students and what they were doing on GCSEPod, and a lot of them were given additional work linked around it. We started using the GCSEPod assessments and pre-made exam material last year for the first time, and our kids really liked that.
“It’s weird here. A lot of our students love exams and want to know their results and be able to quantify how they did, so something like GCSEPod where they can monitor their own learning and results, especially for those students who are either underperforming or doing exceptionally well, is of massive benefit to both us and them.”
BISAK first introduced GCSEPod in 2017
But it is Lee who has taken ownership of it having first encountered it in 2011 when he was teaching at a school in the North East of England.
He has seen GCSEPod develop “beyond all measure” in the last decade from a revision tool used in the weeks immediately before examinations, to an award-winning EdTech learning platform covering 28-plus GCSE and IGCSE subjects.
With new functions being added all the time – such as ready-made assignments, the unique Check and Challenge assessment system that evaluates student knowledge and understanding, practice workbooks for English and maths, engagement tracking and monitoring, and automatically boosted Pod playlists that match areas of academic weakness – the platform aims to close knowledge gaps, and make learning accessible, concise and available on the go.
Lee says: “We are slowly getting back to normal, but for all of last year our students were working remotely. It was a very tough year for our cohort – teachers, students, parents and other stakeholders.
“But that’s when I really started pushing GCSEPod. I knew how important it was, especially with our students having to work remotely.
“It became this invaluable tool which we were using for lesson planning, for homework, and for assessments. I was actually using it to monitor teacher performance as well, so we were checking on departments which weren’t using it effectively, and also looking for pupils who weren’t utilising it. GCSEPod is great at reporting.
“We started pushing it first with the Year 11’s, and then Years 9 and 10 came on board. We used it to introduce our Year 9’s to GCSE topics, particularly in science and the humanities, and in Year 10 we were using it for homework, for revision, and for our internal assessments.”
He adds: “I love how easy it is to use and it was an invaluable tool in our arsenal at what for everyone has been a very difficult time. GCSEPod helped make things much easier, however, in terms of delivering lessons and assessing students. That shows in our positive statistics.
“It really helped that GCSEPod runs a league table showing usage across schools. I really wanted to win that title.
“In the grand scheme of things it’s not that important, but actually it became a talking point around the school and not only improved usage for us but showed what an important learning tool GCSEPod is.
“I know for a fact that without it things would have been so much more difficult. Having a system that you can access anywhere, at any time and on any device was perfect for us.”
Looking at GCSEPod as a whole, Lee says there are many things that make it an indispensable asset at BISAK. “As a teacher, the range of content is invaluable, and in the years we have had it there has been a marked increase in that content. I like the way GCSEPod now links to exam boards, so as a teacher you don’t have to sift through a mountain of data to find what is relevant to you.
“I also like the way that it’s linked to our management system so I can easily create homework in 30 seconds for an entire class, assign them Pods, review that data instantly as and when a student completes the task, and set a time frame on it.
“Even as a head of department you can view how your team and your students are performing.
“As a deputy head and head of Year 11, I like the way I can report on pretty much anything. I was able to use that for intervention for lower achieving pupils during lockdown and make that part of the intervention programme.
“If, as a child, you know you haven’t done particularly well in a certain subject, you can easily go to GCSEPod and review the relevant material.
“Not every child likes to make notes. With GCSEPod you don’t have to. You can put on a pair of headphones, listen, watch, do the worksheets, and learn. I can even assign directed revision material for assessments.
“You are giving students everything and letting them be more independent, but in a manageable way. They’re not having to trawl around the internet to find things, the videos are quick and precise, and you can tell they are coming from someone who is involved in education and has worked with students.”
Lee will continue to push GCSEPod this academic year and whilst he admits that BISAK may not hit the same high number of Pod views as during 2020-21, he says: “GCSEPod is now built into the fabric of the school, we know how valuable it is, and it’s here to stay.”
“GCSEPod is now built into the fabric of the school, we know how valuable it is, and it’s here to stay.”
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