Case Study

Steps to success with GCSEPod

Kingsmead School introduced GCSEPod a few weeks before Year 11’s mock exams. But even in that short space of time the online teaching and learning platform produced impressive results.


Kingsmead School

Kingsmead School is a coeducational secondary school and sixth form. Established in 1938, it is located in Hednesford, Staffordshire, England. 

Kingsmead School on the edge of the beautiful Cannock Chase in Staffordshire only introduced GCSEPod a handful of weeks before Year 11’s mock exams. But even in that short space of time the online teaching and learning platform produced impressive results.

When science teacher Emma Bracebridge walked into Kingsmead School on the first day of the new 2018 academic year, she could have been forgiven for thinking the clock had been turned back.

Because Emma was once a pupil at the school in Hednesford, Staffordshire, as was her father before her.

It may have been 18 years since she had left Kingsmead and headed off to university and thence a career in teaching.

But a pleasing sense of familiarity swept over her as she walked through the main doors of the coeducational school and made her way to the staff room rather than a classroom.

“It was very strange going back to the school I had been at, albeit as a teacher rather than a student. But I felt like I was coming home,” she says. “Very little seemed to have changed. Three of the teachers who taught me were still here, the layout was the same, and I can remember walking down the corridor wondering if any of my graffiti had survived, not that I was that sort of girl, of course. I was always very academic,” she adds with a laugh.

But not everything was the same. “Kingsmead had always had a reputation as a good school, but it would be fair to say it had lost its way in recent years. The most recent Ofsted report had rated it as requiring improvement. But there was a new head teacher and it was on the up.”

Kingsmead – which was established in 1938 as Littleworth School and during World War Two housed child evacuees – had been marked down by Ofsted on both Attainment 8 and progress. While head teacher Maria Mincher was making great inroads, Emma arrived at her alma mater with an idea she believed could be a game changer: GCSEPod.

She had recently moved back to her home area from Yorkshire, and the previous academic year had worked on the leadership team at another Staffordshire-based school that was already a GCSEPod subscriber.

Emma freely admits she had never heard of the online teaching and learning platform with its short, easy to access revision videos (known as Pods). But the platform that’s packed with relevant subject knowledge covering all the major exam boards, and which can be accessed in the classroom or on the go on a smartphone or tablet, quickly piqued her interest.

“The head there was the main driving force for GCSEPod, and it appealed to me because as a form tutor I could keep an eye on who was doing their revision and who wasn’t. But it was the school’s GCSE exam results which really changed things for me. They were exceeding county and national averages, which was attributed in large part to the school having access to GCSEPod and using it to its full advantage to help its students get exam ready.

“Between that school and Kingsmead, I couldn’t see any difference in terms of the quality of the teaching or the capabilities of the students, and yet there clearly was a big contrast. I came to the conclusion that the only thing separating them was GCSEPod.” 

The platform went live at Kingsmead School in November 2018, just weeks before the Year 11 students were to sit their mock exams. It was an immediate hit.

Despite students not being allowed their phones in school, they showed great enthusiasm and within 10 days all 400 Year 10 and Year 11’s had signed-up and were regularly using GCSEPod at home and on the go.

It has to be said, Emma was rabid in her desire to ensure each and every student had engaged with the platform. “We did a big sweep of all the students who hadn’t used it. I was going into lessons, pulling the students out, sitting them down in front of a computer and making then sign on.”

The platform was quickly rolled out to Years 7, 8 and 9. Kingsmead is a keen advocate of flipped learning, where the conventional notion of classroom-based study is inverted, with students introduced to instructional content – often online – outside of school, with teaching time instead used to deepen understanding through discussion and problem solving.

GCSEPod has proved especially useful in KS3 for teaching French and maths, where students have made use of Pass4Maths with its content broken down into 10 modules containing a series of individual playlists.

The school is careful not to overuse GCSEPod in the younger age groups, however. As Emma says: “We don’t want them to become too overfamiliar with it, but it does mean that the students will come to their GCSE’s already aware of it and well trained in its use and advantages.

“But it is proving to be a great tool when it comes to setting homework assignments.”

It is among the current GCSE students that the platform’s positive impact has been most felt.

By February 1 this year, more than 26,000 Pods had been watched with Maths, French, Physics, Biology, History and Religious Studies, among the most popular topics. Mock exam results have shown that students who watched 50 Pods or more achieved an average of one grade higher across their subjects compared to their Year 10 grades.

The school’s highest two Pod watchers viewed over 400, while another five exceeded 300, and seven broke the 200 barrier.

Emma says: “It is quite obvious that in just a short time, GCSEPod has already had an impact, and we are now looking to see an improvement again come the summer.”

While Emma is undoubtedly a driving force behind GCSEPod’s success, getting youngsters to engage with anything school related can be an uphill battle, no matter how good the product or the intentions. Why does Emma think GCSEPod is hitting its target with today’s notoriously cynical teenagers?

“Because they can watch the content while they are travelling to and from Kingsmead or going about their other daily tasks. I know some students who watch the Pods while they are getting ready on a morning. The platform is really convenient.”

The high usage has seen Kingsmead top the Central area Pod Games league table – the competitive contest run by GCSEPod that ranks schools by the number of videos watched, with awards and prizes presented to the winners regionally and nationally. The school is currently ranked second nationally in the games.

This is much to the delight of Maria MIncher, who has discovered a hitherto untapped competitive streak. “We started two weeks behind everyone else and we have just kept flying up the table,” she says with undisguised glee. “The games have definitely brought out a competitive side in not just me, but the rest of the staff too, and we are absolutely out to win it in our first year.

“I have to admit, there have been times when I have got up in the middle of the night and crept downstairs to have a look at how we are doing.

“But we have deliberately not pushed the Pod Games with the students, as we don’t want them just watching the videos for that one purpose. We want them to be engaged for the right reasons.”

Maria confesses she was sceptical about GCSEPod when Emma first approached her. “As you can imagine, I am bombarded with people trying to sell me educational aids, but when Emma showed me GCSEPod I could see how it could be successfully used for flipped learning and for our GCSE students. I could see it wasn’t just a gimmick.

“I have only been at the school for 12 months, but one of the things I picked up on very early on, was that the children were hoping for something that would make them feel successful. They have been able to see themselves going up the Pod Games table, we have been able to see that they are revising, and it’s had a real impact on our mock exam results, and indeed on learning throughout the whole school.”

An unexpected example of just how useful GCSEPod is proving to be, came when the school was forced to close for a day due to heating issues. Maria says: “We were able to set the students 20 Pods to cast at home, while staff were at school checking on what was being watched. It had a major impact on a day that would otherwise have been wasted.”



Steps to Success

Emma Bracebridge’s enthusiasm for GCSEPod may have been infectious, but that alone wasn’t enough to secure funding for the online teaching and learning platform.

Emma had to prove there was a genuine desire to see it introduced and ensure its ongoing success. And to do that she had to first win over the staff.

Working from the top down, she presented GCSEPod to the school’s Progress Leaders, then the Subject Leaders and finally to all the staff, who unanimously embraced the concept.

With staff buy-in assured, head teacher Maria Mincher felt confident to invest in the platform.

GCSEPod was introduced to students at assembly, letters sent home to parents, details about it posted on the school website, and an ongoing social media campaign launched.

A dedicated GCSEPod notice board was unveiled where student milestones can be celebrated, and Pod targets set, with Year 11’s asked to watch a minimum of just 10 a week.

Usage is continually monitored, and the parents of students who fail to engage are alerted.

Emma is zealous in her own determination to keep GCSEPod morale high, and has sold it as a privilege and not as a punishment.

Kingsmead has avoided resorting to a reward system (although Maria has supported the roll-out by giving congratulation cards to staff who are engaged with it), preferring students to draw on their own pride in themselves and their school, and a natural competitive streak, to fuel uptake.

The mock exam success has helped to spur on the Year 11’s, and self-motivation is high.

Emma believes long-term success comes down to “sending out a constant and positive message about how good GCSEPod is and how it can help you, as an individual, whether you are a student or a teacher.

“Oh, and continually badgering and wearing people down. I tend to find that works well too!”

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