Closing the gender gap
The performance gap between girls and boys in KS4 is a serious national concern. At this school GCSEPod isn’t just being used as a GCSE teaching and learning tool for its Year 10 and 11 students, but has been rolled out across the academy as it looks to close the Progress 8 gap between boys and girls.
At Eggar’s School in Hampshire, GCSEPod isn’t just being used as a teaching and learning tool for its Year 10 and 11 students, but has been rolled out across the academy as it looks to close the Progress 8 gap between boys and girls.
When ‘John Eggar’s Free Grammar School’ was founded in 1640 in the then small Hampshire market town of Alton, in the picturesque Wey Valley, it was an exclusively male establishment.
Eggar had long dreamt of providing a free to attend school to meet the needs of the local community, and in 1638 the gentleman farmer bought 39 acres of land to achieve his ambition. In 1642 the first head teacher was appointed – the date of which features on the Eggar’s School crest, the name by which the former grammar school is now known.
It has been through many changes in the near 380 years since those first boys walked through the door of John Eggar’s Free Grammar School. In 1969 it moved from its original 17th century base into a modern, purpose-built school on a new site in Alton. In 1975 it converted to a comprehensive school, accessible to all children from the area, and in 2012 took on academy status.
But perhaps one of the biggest changes in the school’s history came in 1911 when girls could attend for the first time – 269 years after its inauguration.
Firmly established as one of Hampshire’s best state schools, Eggar’s has been rated ‘Good’ with outstanding features by Ofsted. It has
maintained its position as not only one of the highest performing schools in its area, but in the top 10% nationally too.
In the 2018 GCSE exams, 81% achieved a Level 4 and above. In Mathematics, 84% reached Level 4 or better, with English coming in at 86%. In Science, 78% attained a Level 4 or above in two disciplines or more, and 63% attained Level 5 and over.
This was despite the challenges posed by tougher standards and the impact of a new rating system. It meant that John Eggar’s founding desire that the needs of the local community should be met through his school, were once again fulfilled as another group of talented students left with bright futures ahead of them.
But even as the school was celebrating its GCSE successes, there was cause for concern: the girls had yet again made better Progress 8 headway than their male peers.
Nationally, it’s the same picture. Girls are consistently doing better than boys academically when measured against Progress 8 (P8), the indicator used to gauge the development children make between the end of primary school and when they finish their secondary education.
The performance gap between girls and boys in KS4 is a serious national concern. It’s a worry for staff at the Eggar’s School too. Indeed, Deputy Headteacher, Martyn Reah, candidly describes it as “the biggest problem we face.”
Of the 927 students currently attending Eggar’s School, 501 are male and 426 female. In every year, girls are outnumbered by boys.
Martyn has his own theories as to why the student ratio is weighted towards boys. “I think it is partly historical. We were at one time a specialist science college and there is also a girls’ convent school around the corner that has recently become co-educational. During the six years I have been here there have always been more boys than girls, but that is starting to change.”
The school’s most recent Ofsted report published in November 2018 highlighted that “some pupils, particularly boys, are not as industrious or focused on learning as they could be,” and recommended Eggar’s “improve teaching and learning so that more pupils achieve their potential, particularly boys and those pupils who are most able.”
It was an area of development the school had self-identified, however.
And it had a weapon at its disposal that had already been utilised in the campaign to turn the P8 tide: GCSEPod.
More usually employed by Year 10 and 11 students as a revision tool, in September 2018 the school rolled the online teaching and learning platform out across all year groups as part of a new Scholarly Attitude initiative, covering engagement, revision and homework, which makes good use of GCSEPod, as well as other resources.
Martyn says the premise was simple: by introducing GCSEPod – which quickly and easily tracks and monitors progress – from Year 7 onwards, teachers would be better able to target weaknesses, consolidate subject knowledge and accelerate progress.
It is, he explains, “precision revision rather than a scattergun approach,” with the aim of reducing variations across the school and a focus on improving the quality of teaching and learning.
“GCSEPod helps with additional learning. Every KS4 student is expected to complete 10 hours of additional study a week. GCSEPod helps with this and will, we believe, help students to improve their progress and attainment outcomes. “When used effectively, GCSEPod improves the knowledge base. Used with exam practice, it improves outcomes. The school mantra has been to do less, but better.
“We already know the students like it, otherwise they wouldn’t use the tool. It helps with structure to support revision and answers the question, ‘what do I need to revise?”
Martyn is frank about the problems faced by the school: “While we are one of the top performing schools in Hampshire and achieve well in other areas with 51% of our students realising a Grade 5 or above in their English and maths GCSEs and a high percentage of leavers who go on to further education or into employment, our P8 has slipped from -0.18 to -0.33 in the last couple of years.
“What we want is to see all our students – male and female – attaining an average of grade 6 or above, and we believe GCSEPod has an important part to play in helping us to achieve this. We already know from usage last year that those students who engaged well with GCSEPod did better when it came to Progress 8. When it comes to theory-based revision, GCSEPod’s framework is just the tool to do it.”
The most recent Year 11 GCSEPod Impact Report covering the period between September 2017 and the end of August 2018, shows that on average the highest users over the whole year achieved 1.2 more Progress 8 points than the lowest.
The highest users during the exam period on average attained 0.9 more Progress 8 points than their lower using counterparts.
When it came to Attainment 8, the main users over the whole year realised 8% more (+3.8) points than the lowest. During the exam period this equated to 2% more (+10) Attainment 8 points than the bottom users.
First introduced to the school in November 2016, GCSEPod provides short, snappy and visually appealing videos – known as ‘Pods’ – that are tied in to the national curriculum, to help students study and revise, either in the classroom or on the go on a smartphone or tablet.
It’s an ideal platform for teachers to engage in flipped learning, where students can access lessons online outside school at their own convenience, allowing them to get ahead so that class time can be used for assessment, to engage those youngsters who may dismiss traditional learning methods, and to nurture independent learning.
It is too early to say yet whether the Scholarly Attitude programme and its the desired effect on the school’s P8 result.
But teacher feedback suggests that promoting wider GCSEPod use is having a positive effect in the classroom.
Head of Geography, Chris Rowe, says: “We have been setting GCSEPod as homework in years 10 and 11 every three weeks using interleaving, and before assessments in years 7 to 9. We have noticed an increase in specific knowledge, especially about case studies, and students are better at using facts and figures.”
And History Curriculum Leader, Clare Daish, adds: “We have been using GCSEPod in class to introduce topics, helping students to gain an overview and giving them an idea of how useful they are. We have also been attaching specific pods to homework to help the students with the task and using them to model how to make flashcards.
“Accessing GCSEPod on their phones in class has meant that students can watch the pods relevant to their needs. It is helping students to become more resourceful and means they aren’t always looking to me for an answer.”
The school’s Pod views have rocketed. Eggar’s is currently the third top GCSEPod user nationally out of 1,244 schools this academic year, with nearly 55,000 Pods watched by the end of the spring term. Year 10 students have so far watched more than 29,000, with Year 11’s usage standing at 18,612.
Usage has tripled by focusing on key departments and using the ‘Show My Homework’ tool to track and monitor homework, with the ‘little and often’ approach of working in a measured way to reap maximum benefit, sitting comfortably with GCSEPod’s own visual and auditory attitude to teaching and learning, which makes it easier to comprehend and retain knowledge.
Martyn says: “There are many theories out there as to why girls continue to perform better than boys at P8, but as a school what we want to do is to make sure that every student hits their top 20 target for progress in every lesson, and that they don’t just make the GCSE grade 4 required for maths and English, but can achieve an average grade 6. GCSEPod is an integral part of achieving that.”
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