Boys at St Columba’s College in St. Albans use short videos aligned to the curriculum before and after each lesson to significantly increase their pass marks.

The pressure to perform well is just as intense for independent schools as it is in the state education sector, even more so when you have some of the UK’s top achieving private faculties including Merchant Taylor’s and Eton on your doorstep St Columba’s College in St. Albans is always looking for ways of ensuring its students thrive and excel.

The independent Roman Catholic day school which opened in 1939 caters for boys aged four to 18.  St Columba’s has around 900 students and proudly delivers a quality education from start to finish.

About two years ago, maths teacher and director of studies, Ian Devereux started to look for ways of supplementing each student’s learning to ensure they were not only comfortable, and confident in their studies but also driving up their exam pass marks.

After much research, Ian realised that the school needed supplementary online learning activities aligned to the GCSE revision curriculum that would provide activities for pre-lesson familiarisation, post-lesson consolidation and of course revision.

“If students have already carried out learning activities aligned to the day’s area of study before class starts, they are ready to approach the day’s work with a higher level of confidence. The lesson can delve deeper into each skill area with the students involved and able to contribute constructively to the lesson.
“If you are then able to offer them a number of online follow up activities that consolidate the learning carried out in the class that day, potentially as homework, it makes teachers lives easier and ensures each student fully understands every aspect of the day’s lesson.
“And finally, our teachers and students are always looking for high quality revision material. One of the big complaints these days is that students don’t know how to revise so I was originally looking for a revision tool. The ideal resource should not only focus on the key learning objectives and topics to be tested at exam time but should also cover the more complex skill areas.”

Recognising that to get the students to use the resource before and after class it had to be attractive to them, Ian looked at online resources offering the learning through short videos.

“Today’s students, but especially boys, live in a YouTube world so I knew that any learning content that was easy to access and delivered through videos would be well used.”

The video-based learning tool GCSEPod, supports all skill areas across 20 subjects from quadradic equations to Hamlet’s banishment to England. Each short video pod can be accessed in the classroom or on the go on a smartphone or tablet, meaning the students are able to watch them before, during and after school. They are also designed to be deliberately easy for teachers to assign as homework or lesson preparation.

Launched at St Columba’s in January 2018, the addition to the students’ learning has had a phenomenal impact at a school that was already amongst the highest achieving in the country.

In the 2016-2017 academic year, 44.1 per cent of GCSE students achieved A*-A grades. By the 2017-2018 academic year this leapt to 53.5 per cent of all grades being at 9-7 (A*-A) and by the 2018-2019 academic year, the college’s GCSE results saw 56.6 percent of students gaining the top 9-7 grades.


It goes without saying that the high quality of teaching at St Columba has played a big part in the exam success the students have seen. But as Ian says, “we have had record results two years in a row, and there is no doubt in my mind that a huge part of this success can also be attributed to our new way of supplementing the learning that our teachers deliver.”

Of course, being a maths teacher, Ian has been carefully tracking and calculating the students’ progress; the residual, or value-added score, for many students has been especially revealing.

Ian was right. With the learning delivered through short, engaging videos thousands of pods have been watched over the past two years. However, it is when you look specifically at the 30 students who watched the most videos that the impact is even more remarkable: their average YELLIS residual was 0.72, or in other words these students achieved nearly three-quarters of a grade above their predictions across all subjects.

For those sitting the exams in 2019, the top GCSEPod users saw YELLIS residuals in the 0.5 to 2.2 range.

Ian concludes, “from the moment we subscribed to this new supplementary learning resource, I have monitored the number of Pods each student has watched and tracked this against the residual they achieved in their mock and GCSE exams. There is no doubt that GCSEPod has had a significant impact on so many students’ achievements and exam results.”

Employing tools which are an added extra to students learning and understanding of the subject they are being taught is crucial in any school. However, in order for independent school to continue to be able to deliver a top quality service, which parents are willing to invest in, utilising unique and innovative tools such as GCSEPod are a crucial way to add additional values to your offer to your current and prospective students.