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Quick Wins and School Improvement in Challenging Times

27/01/2021 @ 20:30 - 21:30 GMT

School Improvement is always on the agenda, even in challenging times. Great schools never stand still.

Our latest webinar focusses on the actions shown to have the greatest impact upon student’s achievement.

Lots of quick wins that are easy to implement. And that will have an immediate and long-lasting impact.

Why not upskill parents, at scale, so they know exactly HOW to help at home?

It’s been shown time and again this has the biggest impact on school improvement. And it’s even more important than ever in lockdown. We show how to do this without overloading teachers. It’s not enough to send work home for parents to supervise. If remote learning is to be effective then parents need to be shown how to help. And we can automate that so it’s no work for teachers. And our pre-written explanations cover Reading, Writing and Maths, and are in 100 languages – perfect for EAL families.

Imagine if every teacher could access just the right part of your internal guidance, at the moment they need it, without wading through the whole policy? Imagine if your subject leads could mentor every member of staff remotely, one-demand? It’s easy with our Curriculum Tools.

Surely you should be able to search every online education resource on the internet in seconds? Find exactly what each child needs. Even from site’s like BBC Bitesize that don’t have their own search function. Then share and evaluate in a click? With our new curated search engine – The Curriculum Lab – you can do exactly that from within Learning Ladders. Find any resource, matched to your existing plans, then share it via the remote learning portal and even track understanding with self-marking quizzes.

Why wait for issues to arise? Interrogate historical data trends and pinpoint likely issues before they happen.

The video is 30 minutes long so grab a coffee.

Webinar Transcription:

Matt: Hello everybody, welcome to the webinar. Just in terms of housekeeping, as I always say, I think everybody is familiar with Zoom nowadays. If you have any questions or any comments as we go through, then do just type them into the Q&A on the chat and I’ll keep an eye on that as we go through. I’m going to stick to about half an hour and there’s an awful lot to talk about. So, I’m going to go through relatively quickly. There will be notes on our website, learningladders.info at the end of the session. 

My name is Matt. I’m the founder here at Learning Ladders. You can get me on social media. That’s my Twitter handle. And for the session today, we have a hashtag beyond tracking, which is our usual hashtag for the CPD events. I also chair EdTech at Besa, the trade association here in the U.K. I’m a founding member of a group called EdTech Evidence as well. I can give you perspectives from a range of angles. But mainly ones I wanted to share is some lessons that we’ve been learning from some of our member schools around the world that we think will be useful. And some insights into how you can get ahead of what’s going on at the moment. So a quick 30 minute session on quick wins and school improvement planning in challenging times with a particular focus on maths. 

A lot of what I’m going to talk about applies to any subject. But just as an example, we’re going to focus on maths today. So going through and having a look at some of these things. I’m going to cover the big picture. I’m going to talk about what research tells us about improving progress generally, not just at the moment, but generally how this looks, particularly in the context of mathematics and how to make it real, how to actually bring it to life without overloading staff. Obviously, the system that I have access to is Learning Ladders. That’s our system. I appreciate that. It’s a sophisticated system and not everybody has access to it on the webinar. Apologies if that’s the case, but this is probably the easiest way for me to show you the quickest and most accurate way to do these things. 

So a few housekeeping things in terms of context. Obviously, the majority of people on the webinar are probably working in a scenario where some parts of the school community is not attending school in the traditional way. There is some element of local lockdown. If you’re in the UK, that’s still a national lockdown. In other territories, you have more blended learning. And in some territories it’s beginning to get back to normal. But whatever the scenario is, it’s not quite what we would call normal learning. And there’s been a huge amount of disruption. So, before we rush into thinking about details of how we’re going to plan for school improvement and where we might get the quick wins, we really need to not overlook the really obvious fundamental factors. Thinking about pupil’s well-being here. If we miss that step, then anything that we do later on is going to have far less impact. 

So, we know obviously securely attached children learn better. We know the anxiety is a block to learning. We know that we have to create time and space for relationships and rebuild routines, particularly within young children. We know that we need to explicitly scaffold ways to learn, not just bombard children with content and stuff that they have to remember. We know that we need to be transparent with children and we know that children will learn much, much better if we construct how to address the gaps in learning with them. And by that, I mean involve them in their learning, give them a role, give them some responsibility for discussing and understanding where their gaps in learning may be. And with very young children, that probably falls partially or wholly with the parents as well. But to have that dialogue that needs to be a two-way dialogue, particularly at the moment. Parents are obviously playing a critical role and we really, really need to focus on how we up-skilling parents, how we interact with parents when we’re planning our school improvement and our quick win. So that’s a bit of context. I think everybody will hopefully agree with that. 

The one thing I would say from the research and things that we’re finding from schools that are successfully adapting to blended learning around the world, there is one influential factor that is significantly more important than anything else you will do. So if you remember nothing else from this webinar and you only take one action, this will be the one to take away that anything you do in school to try and improve children’s education, anything that you do around school improvement planning, around interventions, around assessment about anything else will be trumped by how effectively you can get adults at home, by which I mean parents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, tutors, chauffeurs (If you’re in that part of the world). Anything you can do to get adults more involved in the day-to- day learning of children and up skill them so they know how to help. That will have a greater impact on children’s learning than anything else that you can do, even under normal circumstances, so particularly under the current circumstances where we’re relying on the adults at home to scaffold learning, to address misconceptions, to manage motivation, to get children to do the things that we want them to do with our remote learning plans. 

We know that in young children, in very young children particularly, it is not enough to simply send work home and have an adult at home supervise that that work is is happening, that that work has been given to the child. Those children need an adult with them who can scaffold their learning, who can take the place of the teacher in some respects by providing that motivation, providing those nudges, addressing misconceptions, modelling great ways of doing this. And that’s an incredibly hard thing to do. We know that. But if you can do it, then it will have more of an impact than anything else. 

If you look at the studies, it shows that time and time again getting adults at home effectively involved in children’s learning, and what I mean by that is that they are actually specifically supporting individual tasks as part of a learning sequence. This is not simply about parents being involved, taking a picture and sharing it back with you, celebrating a reward sticker, celebrating something like that, answering homework. It is much deeper than that. Its parents who are up skilled at scale so they can all help their children remotely understand what they need to do and support them. And if you can crack that the maths for any other subject across the whole school, then time and time again the research has shown that is the single biggest thing that you can do. So, when you’re planning quick wins and school improvement in these challenging times, this is the most important thing you can do. And it’s not about simply sharing information with children or sharing information with parents. It’s making sure they know how to help at home. It’s making sure they understand the terminology. 

Now, clearly, that can be quite intimidating, but the very, very good news is that although there are a lot of challenges out there- we know that a lot of families here in the UK and international schools, English might not be their first language. They might not be familiar with the terminology, with the teaching strategies that we know. We know there are a lot of challenges and we know the parents really, really want to help, but we know that it can be potentially overwhelming. So, you need a way to upscale parents at scale at home. Now, we have a method for doing this (little plug for Learning Ladders). Obviously here you can do this very, very easily. The way that we do it, and you may have a different way, the way that we do it is every single task that is set by the school or every single assessment that is made for every child is communicated through the remote learning platform and mapped to a whole load of prewritten resources. And this is a really quick, easy way that you can upskill parents at scale. So, for every individual child, they have a summary of all of their current objectives, exactly what they’re working on. You can set homework, you can share portfolios, you can do pupil reports. You can do flip learning, remote learning tasks, self- marking homework. But critically, each one of these, the parents and the children’s themselves, can then click through to a pre-written article. This is an explanation that Learning Ladders has created, and it goes through and explains to parents, this is exactly what you do for this particular skill at a very specific level. And all of these resources are available in over 100 languages. So, if you have communities at home that are not used to supporting home learning because either they simply don’t have the time normally or they don’t have the capacity or the expertise if they need to access this information in their home language so they can support their children, that’s absolutely fine. It’s clearly much better when adults at home have some understanding of how to help their children. And if we need to serve that up in their home language, absolutely no problem with that whatsoever. So, this can be a real game changer for those families who are not used to accessing the curriculum or supporting their children. So that’s the first part. And if you’re interested in parental engagement and that sort of stuff, we can talk about that a lot more. 

So, you need to show parents exactly how to help. You need to, in school, create the conditions for success. Now, some of this will have happened already. Hopefully, if it hasn’t happened already, it is never too late. The relationship between home and school has to be to say there has to be a conversation going on. Share with parents and with the children. If they’re slightly older, explicitly share what you believe they can already do and therefore where your focus of teaching is going to be and they can respond to that and confirm it or challenge it or say, actually, maybe I don’t understand this, or I do understand this a little bit more. But that dialogue is going to be the best way that you can make an accurate assessment of children’s current learning situation. And until you’ve assessed that foundation stage, until you know exactly where they are at the moment, you can’t build on that. There are no quick wins. 

There is no school improvement unless you have a very clear idea of your starting point. So, lots of low stake quizzes, lots of open-ended tasks, lots of conversations. This is not the time for formal intimidating tests. This is not the time for, you know, your exam type features. You cannot replicate that remotely. You cannot validate the conditions on which children are taking. Those tests are universal and fair for every child. So don’t bother would be my suggestion. But what you can do is use your existing data to identify known gaps and predict where there may be issues. You can use software like Learning Ladders to set self-marking quizzes to do low stakes online assessment to set open-ended tasks which will give you really rich information. 

So, it’s a different way of doing your formative assessment, but it’s equally valid because your teachers will have that information. And if it’s low stakes and if it’s very small, there’s very little incentive for anyone to cheat the system. So, you do tend to find that actually the information that you get through this is very accurate. The other thing, obviously, while we’re talking about this, is this is a change. If this is a time of huge change for the majority of teachers in the majority of schools and families. So, we need to be flexible. We need to be flexible and compassionate, and we need to have flexible systems. And we need to just remember the scenario that everybody is operating in. 

OK, so for school leaders, what can we do on the school improvement area? First and foremost, create the conditions to support the teachers. We need a high-quality bespoke curriculum that doesn’t change whether you’re doing remote learning or whether you’re doing teaching and learning in the normal way. High quality bespoke curriculum for maths. You need a calculation policy that teachers can access at the point of need. So you will have, if you’re a subject lead, created a policy which sequences learning in your subject beautifully throughout the whole school. And it’s probably a work of art and something that you’re very proud of, certainly mine was when I was maths leader in my school. This is something that you’ve worked on. But unless the teachers are accessing the relevant part of it at the relevant point of need, it’s totally pointless because it’s not being pursued. So, you need to make that easy for them to access so that you’re supporting them, so you’re giving them every chance of success. 

If you’re using Learning Ladders and you’re a subject leader, you would do it like this. You would go into the curriculum section you would go into the creation zone. Let’s say I’m looking at maths, I would go into the part of the curriculum that I’m interested in. So, if I’m interested in addition, I can go into the edit function here and I can very easily go into a bit of the curriculum here. And I can add in useful resources. I can add in teaching notes and descriptions. This is where, as a subject leader, bringing your curriculum to life, bringing your calculation policy to life, giving that mentoring can be hugely valuable, particularly for the less experienced teachers and by upskilling your teaching staff so they have the confidence and the resources to hand so they know exactly how to help. That is another really quick way to school improvement in any time, regardless of remote learning or normal learning. So, add in teaching notes here, you know, and this can be simple extracts from your calculation policy if you’re using external resources, if you purchased a scheme linked to it from here, if you have an Internet, if you have moderated work, if you have lesson plans, link to it here so that the teachers can understand that in our particular system. 

We now have something called the Curriculum Lab. So, a lot of the time teachers will then, once they know where the gaps in learning are, search through the Internet for supporting resources to understand what might be the best way to bring this to life for children. Well, again, can we short circuit that for them? Can we help them with that? So as more experienced teachers, you could use the curriculum lab here or teachers can use it as well. And literally what it will do is it searches the page that you’re on. So, it knows that you’re on addition and Mass, that’s maybe, say, filter by year two and it searches the Internet for the best available resources in this particular area. So, for example, these are all of the resources on BBC Bite Size relating to maths addition for year two children. And there’s a lot of them. And you can go through and you can have a look at them. We also have something called Oak National Academy, which is a government funded website where there are prewritten, pre-recorded lessons and resources and quizzes and all sorts of stuff. And again, the system will search all of those for you so you can go through. You can have a look at the particular resource and then you can add it into your teaching planning and use it either in school or remotely publish it through the remote learning platform. Set a quiz alongside it so that you can get immediate feedback and you can get an idea of who’s doing it. So, this is another new feature. If you’re using Learning Ladders to have a look at the curriculum, that which means that you can surface those resources, the point of need or other things to think about. 

You’ve got resources, you’ve got your calculation policy that’s come to life. What is your assessment policy? What is your assessment structure? Is that reflecting your current teaching needs? So how are you going to do that? And again, you can go through and you can flex this in different ways in the system. So, for example, you may decide to flag to your teachers that some parts of the curriculum are non-negotiable. They are particularly important parts of the curriculum that although we appreciate that it’s a challenging time and teachers may not be able to get every part of the curriculum. This is the really critical area. So flag them, highlight them. We call them key performance indicators, whatever you call them, flag them on their make it clear to teachers that those are the non-negotiable tasks. And again, it’s these simple little things. If you’re a sports fan, it’s the aggregation of marginal gains, lots and lots of simple little wins to make teachers lives easier, pupils’ lives easier, parents lives easier will yield these results. There’s very rarely a magic bullet. The parent portal is probably as far as we can come to that. So, it’s lots and lots of these quick wins that will make the difference. 

Alright, think about your assessment structure, think about your assessment policy. Is your data giving you the information that you need? If in remote learning you’re going to have to have a term or two of discovery, of understanding what children have done when they’ve been out of school, your assessment policy and your assessment data needs to reflect that and we can show you how to do that if you’re a Learning Ladders customer. All right. We want flexible, independent, resilient learners. So, it means empowering them. If you want children to be flexible enough to cope with remote learning, they need to have had responsibility for their own learning if the process that they’re used to is teacher, just as with a very small information, very small amount of information, just enough to get them through one lesson, and then the teacher evaluates them on that lesson and then they leave the lessons finished. If they’re used to that stop start teaching style, it’s going to be impossible for them to adapt to remote learning where they need to take more ownership. They need to be more self- starting. They need to be more resilient, more flexible. So, we have to train children by sharing with them explicitly. This is your learning journey. These are the objectives that we’re going to be working on. They are a sequence of lessons that will build up to these objectives and we want you to take ownership of them. So having those conversations with children, that’s the first step to effective remote learning. If children are not used to having the conversations about learning and taking ownership of learning with their teachers, they’re not going to magically suddenly be able to take ownership of their learning and lead the conversation with their parents when they’re at home. So, we need to build that gap and we need to give the children responsibility for this area. 

Final area, I told you I was going quickly, and I apologise for that, there’s a lot to cover. Data is your friend, so set yourself up for success. A big part of what Learning Ladders will do is obviously your data. Whatever data system you’re using, you need to tailor your algorithms. So, school data historically has been quite inaccurate for three main reasons. The systems that you’ve used haven’t been able to reflect exactly the curriculum that you’re teaching in school. The assessment policy that the system has used hasn’t exactly been able to reflect your assessment policy and the calculation. The algorithm that the system has used doesn’t reflect the real world of teaching and learning. Now, most of the time, you should be able to customise your curriculum. You should be able to customise your assessment policy, but make sure you also customise your algorithm. If your data system is giving you judgements on children based on linear progress, a third, a third, a third progress each term. If it assumes that every subject is assessed in the same way, the data you get from it will be wrong because that’s not how schools work. If your system can’t cope, as we know that a lot of systems can’t with progress outside of the registration year group. If the system won’t recognise a year for child working on year three objectives as making progress, then your data is always going to be wrong. So find a system that will do that for you. Share excellence and support needs based on the data, then, yes, so you can use data patterns, even though you’ve probably had 12 months, nine months possibly of missing data. You can look at historical patterns and understand very, very easily where gaps in learning may be. 

And you can do that in a number of ways. You can very easily do it using systems. If I was to go into ours, for example, again, this is how we do it, you might be able to do it differently, very, very simply. I am choosing a target group. I am choosing year five. I’m looking at their reading. I’m looking at what have they done in year five. So far, these colours and numbers are based on this school’s particular example. These this is what’s going on. But what I’m seeing here is the current year. Well, that may not be of particular interest to me. What did Year five AB do when they were in year four? You should be able to just go back in time for your existing class and identify gaps in learning really, really easily. What did the current Year five do when they were in year three? This information needs to be accessible to your class teachers at the click of a button. Otherwise, they are going to waste a lot of time on diagnostic work, on assessments, on pitching work at the wrong level, on trying to cover topics and subjects where the foundation skills haven’t been mastered by the children. If you don’t have this kind of data, this accessible, you’re always going to struggle. 

The other thing to think about is then patterns in learning across multiple years. So again, this is something that we’ve been doing with our schools quite a lot. Having a look at what we’re showing here as a part of the Learning Ladders systems, which has cohort comparisons year on year. So, you can look at your curriculum and see how it’s performing year on year. And what this will do is this will show you. OK, so the current let’s have a look at year four maths. How have we been doing in the year for maths curriculum over the last three academic years? Well, the current year four, we don’t have much data for. We know that, but we can have a look at patterns in previous years and that may give us some trends in our own curriculum, which means we can get ahead of something. And from a school improvement planning perspective means we can make some reasonable assumptions. So, for example, a number of our schools have looked at their curriculum and discovered, for example, that in year two, every year there are 15 or 20 percent of children who don’t master times tables to the required level by the end of the academic year. Well, if that’s happened previously, it’s reasonable to assume that it’s going to happen again this year because this year is likely to be more challenging and not less challenging. So, if in the last few years there’s always been 15 or 20 percent of children who haven’t accessed or mastered time’s tables in maths in year four, it’s reasonable to assume that’s the case. So why wait, put an intervention in place now tell your teaching staff in year four. I am the head of maths. I’ve looked at the data. I anticipate that we may well have a number of children have this issue with times tables in year four. I have looked at the gap analysis of your class or asked you to do it. We’ve identified the specific children and we’ve proactively put an intervention in place that’s highly targeted based on historical data and a reasonable assumption of what’s likely to happen. That is quite simple to do if you can. Access the data in the right way. That’s something that you can really do to get ahead of school improvement planning. Not just look at the children that you’ve got at the moment but have a look at the performance of your curriculum over multiple years and that will give you some really good insights. 

Use historical data. This is one of our dashboards looking at GL data. If you’re a school that uses GL data, particularly in the Middle East, have a look at your historical trends. Have a look at that on a global basis, on an individual basis, and you can get some really good insights as to where likely challenge areas and likely opportunities may be. You need a system that does all of this together, so obviously a little plug for Learning Ladders here, but this is what we do. Everything that I’ve talked about is within one system. So your curriculum design, your assessment, your remote learning, your parent tools, your split learning, your self-marking homework, your pupil reports, your data, your independent learning. Everything I’ve talked about is within one system and you need that. Otherwise, multiple logins, multiple systems, just a waste of time. It’s going to distract your staff. OK. Does it work? Well, yes. In our particular case, we know that it does. 

If you’re interested in EdTech and you’re looking at different solutions, go to comparison sites like EdTech Impact. Have a look at what they say about the various different systems, and that’s a really good way of doing it. So, in summary, if you have any questions do put them in the chat I’m conscious of times. 

I’m going to try and finish promptly because I know everyone’s busy. In summary, involve parents at a granular level and by that, I mean a specific objective level as they go. It’s no good waiting until the end of term, until you do parent consultations or you do a formal people report to share with parents what’s going on. We know that if you’re doing blended learning at the moment with a lot of children at home, it’s no good just sending worksheets home or sending tasks home or giving them a log in to a remote learning platform. The adults at home need to be able to support the children’s learning, address misconceptions, give them the motivation, model enthusiasm. And in order to do that as a school, you need to upscale parents at Scale On-Demand remotely. And that’s what we do at Learning Ladders. No compromise, OK, this is too important and your school is working too hard to compromise. 

There are lots of systems out there, but there are very few that will do all of this for you. Don’t compromise. Make sure you get involved with the systems. If you think systems like ours are beyond you, get in touch with the office, we’re here to help. Even if you’re not using Learning Ladders get in touch. If you have any questions, we are here to help. I’m a former teacher. I know what it’s like. We genuinely want to try and support schools through this programme and we have been doing this for years. I set this up five years ago. We’ve spent five years researching this, developing it, working with schools around the world. We understand this space extremely well. This is not new for us. So have a think about how you can do that. I hope that was that was useful. I have gone through a lot of information very, very quickly. 

These are free CPD sessions that we run at Learning Ladders to support primarily our existing members, but also the wider school community. So, if you’re a member, then I hope that was useful and you’ve picked up some tips. If you are a member and you want to discover more about this than when you’ve logged into your system, click on The Help Guide. And this, as always, is where you’ll find all of the articles. This is where you’ll find access to future webinars. This is where you’ll find access to historical webinars. Our chat forums are community forums. All sorts of stuff is here in the help center. If you’re a member, that’s where you’ll find the recording of this later on. If you’re not, then contact the office and I’m sure they’ll be able to give you a copy. This is how you can get hold of us. Like I said, if you’re on social media, if you’re on Twitter, the hash tag is #beyondtracking. I hope that was useful. I’m going to stop talking now and just have a quick look at the Q&A. If you haven’t asked a question, and you need to get on with your day then thank you very much for taking the time. I hope this was useful so let me know what you think. And like I said, we’re here to support. So very best of luck. Thank you. 


20:30 - 21:30 GMT
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