Helping all students’ with catch up funding
Hitchin Boys school prides itself on moving with the times – one of the reasons it has rolled-out leading Edtech provider GCSEPod to its 330 Year 10 and 11 students.
Here Assistant Head and GCSEPod lead, John Rayner, explains why the faculty has signed up to the online learning platform – and the positive difference it is making to both students and teachers.
Hitchin Boys’ School
Hitchin Boys’ School has a long and illustrious history. Founded nearly 400 years ago as an ‘old free school’, it has gone through a number of reincarnations over the centuries. It is now a comprehensive with 1,200 students drawn from 40 feeder schools across north Hertfordshire.
When was GCSEPod introduced to Hitchin Boys’ School and why?
John: It was the end of November 2020. We used our catch-up funding (the £1bn support package announced by the government in June last year of which £650m was allocated to schools in England to support students in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic). We were looking at how we could support all our GCSE students and the platform ticked all the boxes.
Students can practice on it, they can work on it, they can get rewards from it – I think all students like rewards, but boys in particular like the competitive element. But also we were impressed with the GCSEPod videos and the way they can support learning.
A lot of the catch-up funding is for tutoring and for doing small classes, but actually lots of students need help. The Pods allow students to listen and learn about what they need to catch up on, and then practice it and test it and see how they are doing.
Given the ongoing coronavirus crisis, this is obviously not a normal school year. How are you gauging GCSEPod’s impact on students?
John: For us at the minute it’s about revision and filling in the gaps. We have high Pod usage – 14,500 watched to date – so we know students are engaging with it and using it. We are monitoring what teachers are predicting the results will be at the end, and they are looking positive.
Which subjects have caught students imagination?
John: In terms of subjects, maths, physics, history and English have seen the most Pod usage. Maths is 2,600, physics is 1,900, history is 1,400 and both English literature and language are at 1,100.
What is it about GCSEPod that appeals to you?
John: It has been such a weird year and one of the things that has worked so well is its ease of use. Because Year 11’s weren’t in school when we launched GCSEPod – they were isolating – and we had a feeling that Year 10’s were about to, we heavily used social media and email to advertise it to parents and students. Whereas normally you’d sit down and make sure students can log on they were able to do it with very little traditional input from us.
The introduction videos that GCSEPod produce are excellent and we put them up on our own YouTube channel so people could see what to do. I was blown away by how many students had logged on before I had even shared the ‘how to’ video.
Because it was so easy to log on, when we did the training for teachers we already had a significant uptake from students and were able to show that it was already being used and had struck a chord.
It is just that ease of use that is so compelling. The students can go on and easily find what they need and work through it, and if teachers need to set something up it is very intuitive.
In terms of training for our staff, we have a few teachers who have joined us from schools that had GCSEPod, so they led the first training session, and it was really powerful to have people who had used it in the past be able to show everyone what was good and also note the improvements that have been made. This isn’t a platform that stands still.
Is independent assessment important to your teachers?
John: Yes, especially during lockdown. One of the challenges was actually marking what students had done, because normally in class you are moving around and seeing their work. It was a huge benefit for staff that they could set students work and see how they had done with it.
We had teachers who were doing their live lessons, talking through what had to be done, sending the students off to GCSEPod to do the work and then getting them back into the live lesson to go through the feedback.
One of the things we all love is that the platform tells you who has watched the Pods, and if a student has answered the questions really quickly we can say ‘no, back you go, watch the Pods,’ and once they have we know they have done the work and the learning properly.
Has teacher workload been reduced?
John: Definitely. It is the fact that GCSEPod does the marking for staff, the fact there are pre-made assignments they can find, and that teachers know the videos are going to be high-quality and they can trust them. It saves on the planning and the marking.
Is the Check and Challenge reporting beneficial?
John: We haven’t really pushed Check and Challenge, but it has been used lots with 5,500 questions answered. A lot of students have found it for themselves and have been using it of their own accord.
I know the pastoral staff have been finding the reporting helpful, so they know which of their form group are involved, who they may need to talk to, who to reward and who to push a bit to get joined in.
This also links in with our MIS system so if you want to find out how your form group or year group is doing, that is done for you.
Would you say GCSEPod is a unique assessment system that promotes learning, not just testing?
John: For us, GCSEPod was the strongest package which existed. Take the Pods, for instance, at four or five minutes long. Talking to some of the students, other sites they have used have videos that are 20-30 minutes long.
It’s not that they don’t have the concentration for that, but they would much rather just have the short, succinct Pods.
Do you set Check and Challenge activities for the students?
John: This year we haven’t done an ‘as a school you must’. We have shown people how to set assignments and how they can use Check and Challenge. It is more the students who are using it of their own accord, which is all part of that independence element.
We are very lucky that we have very supportive parents and, on the whole, very motivated, keen students, so when you give them a resource like this and say this will help you in the catch up process and with revision, a significant majority of them will go and use it.
GCSEPod has the breadth and the freedom to allow those students who are really keen to make the most of it.
I have a year 11 maths group of 15 students and there are five you can see are using it independently beyond when I’m telling them to.
That was a selling point for us. We can say to staff, here is something that will make your workload easier, here’s something with high quality resources, but also here is something that if the boys want to push themselves, they can.
HITCHIN BOYS’ SCHOOL STUDENT QUOTES
“I think GCSEPod is a great resource and is a good way to revise for me. I especially like the Check and Challenge with its separate questions for each topic which really test me, and if I get one wrong it will tell me the answer.
“I also feel that in some subjects, like physics, it is helping to push me and I am understanding much more.”
“GCSEPod is really useful, especially for subjects like English. We’re doing Jekyll and Hyde as our book, and even though we haven’t read it fully yet, I have used GCSEPod to help me understand the plot and also to check my understanding of what we have done so far.
“I’m using GCSEPod of my own accord to get ahead, but I am also behind in a few subjects, so it is really helping me there. I go on every day and at weekends to both catch up and get ahead.
“At between two and five minutes, the Pods are a good length. They don’t take 40 minutes like a documentary. They hold your attention and get across the information you need.”
“I obviously have text books for subjects, but when GCSEPod came along I thought I’d try it to see what it’s like. From the start I really liked it as it’s good to sometimes have the topic explained in a different way other than by the teacher so you get a better understanding, and to have extra knowledge as it helps you revise for tests and consolidate the information.
“I watch the Pods whenever a teacher sets an assignment and if I have a test coming up I will always use them to help me revise, especially in science where it can be quite difficult taking in and understanding all the information.
“I have found GCSEPod really works for me in the sciences, and it has some very good Check and Challenge questions which back up what we have done in class.
“The Check and Challenge questions are very useful, especially if you make a mistake, as they will give you an explanation which really helps you understand where and why you went wrong. I also like the fact that you get feedback if you get a question right too.
“GCSEPod is really helping back up the learning I’m doing in class, and sometimes it even expands on it as it gives you extra information that will help you understand and answer the questions in an exam.”
“I tried GCSEPod straight away when we got it at school to see what I thought of it, and immediately saw how much useful information there is. The Pods are a good length and they summarise each topic well. The fact the questions are based on the videos tests you to see if you have understood the information, which is great for learning.
“I access GCSEPod on my laptop at home, and if I have found a topic a little bit difficult in school and haven’t quite understood it, I will watch the videos and try some questions.
“My parents like GCSEPod too. They understand that that is how I need to learn. I feel that since we got GCSEPod in school I am taking in more information and getting on better in my lessons.”
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