Creating a successful distance learning strategy
Concerned about the path the current coronavirus pandemic was going to take, Sacred Heart Catholic High School in Newcastle-upon-Tyne brought forward plans to buy into the GCSEPod online learning platform to help bolster its distance learning strategy.
Sacred Heart High School
Within 3 days of Sacred Heart Catholic High School bringing forward plans to introduce GCSEPod, it was being rolled out to Heads of Department and Year 10 students at the secondary girls’ school in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
It was on March 9 that Ian Bradley, Sacred Heart Catholic High School’s Assistant Head Teacher, met with the Head Mistress to request they bring forward plans to introduce the award-winning digital content and revision provider, GCSEPod.
Three days later the online learning platform was being rolled out to Heads of Department and Year 10 students at the secondary girls’ school in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Whilst the coronavirus epidemic was sweeping across Europe with Italy going into lockdown on March 10 and Spain on March 14, here there was no indication at that point that the British Government planned to follow suit and ban all mass gatherings and sporting events, and close businesses and schools.
Preferring a policy of herd immunity and encouraging anyone displaying even mild Covid-19 symptoms to self-isolate, the UK at the beginning of March was still adopting a ‘business as usual’ approach.
But the talk amongst the senior team at Sacred Heart was not ‘if’ but ‘when’ the lockdown would come.
Ian, who has responsibility for whole school teaching and learning, recalls: “I had been talking with my colleagues over the previous weekend, and the overriding feeling given what was happening in the rest of Europe, was that schools probably would be forced to close here sooner rather than later.
“As such, we knew we had to act quickly to put plans into place to ensure our students could continue with their education.
“It’s been a very successful start and shows how engaged the students are. Our Year 10 students have been knuckling down with nearly 16,000 Pods watched in the two weeks before the start of the Easter holidays.”
“I was already familiar with GCSEPod, with them being based in the North East. We had already had initial discussions about introducing it to our Key Stage 4 students from this September, but when we saw the situation that was arising elsewhere in Europe we knew we had to push the button much quicker than planned.
“So I spoke to our Headteacher on the Monday and said if we had to close, then GCSEPod would be a really good platform to help with our older students’ remote learning.
“I contacted GCSEPod who said they could have it up and running for us in 48 hours. True to their word, they did. And thanks to our brilliant school team, we were able to turn things around very quickly and have everything in place for when the lockdown was announced.”
Given the logistics, the online platform with its 4,000 short and snappy teacher-written audio-visual files known as Pods covering 27 UK and international exam subjects, is currently only available to the school’s Year 10 students.
But the 220-strong cohort has hit the ground running with nearly 16,000 Pods watched in the two weeks before the start of the Easter holidays.
Ian says: “Our Year 10 students directed by the Heads of Department have really been knuckling down to home learning. Alongside their workbooks, they have each watched an average of 70 Pods as recommended by their teachers.
“Around 4,000 Pods have been viewed in Science with English and Maths close behind. That’s really good as they are the three core GCSE subjects. History has had over 2,000 views, French and individual chemistry more than 1,000 views and geography, computer Science and business have all been 500-plus.
“It’s been a very successful start and shows how engaged the students are.”
Sacred Heart Catholic High School has 1,500 students across Years 7-13. Approximately a third of students are Pupil Premium. However, the school is known for its success, is rated as outstanding by Ofsted, and has regularly appeared in The Sunday Times’ annual Top 250 list based on A-level results.
Progress 8 is currently sitting at 0.46 and Attainment 8 at 52.7%. The percentage of students going on to sixth form is 95%, and of those choosing an A-level route, 30% achieved an A or A*.
The state-funded academy prides itself on pushing its girls to realise their personal dreams and ambitions, and in preparing them to take their place in the world. On average two or three are accepted by the Oxbridge colleges every year with many more going on to study medicine or train for other professional qualifications.
Given Sacred Heart’s obvious success, what promoted the school to subscribe to GCSEPod?
Ian says: “The school’s ethos is to ensure we give the girls the best start in life we can, regardless of their backgrounds. We already use a couple of learning apps, but wanted to develop and diversify our use of online platforms. We didn’t feel that GCSEPod’s offer was right for us a couple of years ago. However, the breadth and quality that it now offers better dovetails the way we approach teaching and learning.
“We needed something that we had confidence in, and GCSEPod gives us a perfect base from which to work on broadening our students’ knowledge. GCSEPod is very clever and up-to-date with spaced repetition and interleaved learning.”
Ian has been especially impressed with GCSEPod’s learning tips as well as the new ‘Getting Ready for GCSE resource’ aimed at Year 9 students.
The fact the Pods map the current GCSE curriculum and can be watched on or offline on mobiles, tablets and PCs – making them ideal for home learning and revision – has been another plus during the current lockdown.
Ian also appreciates the way GCSEPod helps, in his words, “drive home the knowledge.”
“If students already have that embedded knowledge before they start revising for their exams, then that’s really good. We can flip things too and get them to watch the videos before they come into school or for revision or spaced learning so they can keep information in the forefront of their mind.
“For example, I can be teaching tectonics in geography and the students can still be revising coasts out of sequence to that content at the front of their minds.”
He adds: “At the end of the day, we wouldn’t be buying into GCSEPod if we didn’t think it added value.”
Ian believes that with the help of GCSEPod, the current Year 10’s will stay on track, although he admits that the format for 2021’s exams may still be impacted by coronavirus, regardless of whether life returns to normal or not in the next few months.
Whatever the future holds, one thing is certain, he says. “Our students will be well prepared, no matter what happens.”
And Sacred Heart will be cascading GCSEPod down to other years from September.
“There is so much content and it provides many opportunities to vary the learning. We had initially wanted to introduce it over the course of the next school year, but with the current Covid-19 situation we thought it would be a good time to roll it out now.
“We didn’t just reach for GCSEPod because of Covid-19, but we thought it would be a good tool for the current situation. At the end of the day, we could be doing what we are without GCSEPod, but we probably wouldn’t be doing it as well.”
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