How Doha College is ensuring students continue to thrive
We have all been overwhelmed, for almost a year now, with a constant flurry of doomsday messages about the lasting negative impact of the pandemic on the global economy, on employment, on our wellbeing, on all our future prospects, not to mention the adverse impact on our children and their education.
Education has clearly suffered a great deal: many students have missed out on vital parts of learning during the extended period of online teaching, for which schools, across the sectors in the UK, but also internationally, displayed different levels of preparedness. Underfunding of IT infrastructure and/or equipment and inadequate investment therein coupled with insufficient training are often at the root of gross disparities between schools leading to equally substantial differences in learning successes for the students involved.
However adverse the circumstances, in education, teachers and leaders are used to making do, to making the most of the facilities at hand to safeguard a continuum of learning for the students in their care. This very innate trait in teachers is an excellent breeding ground for innovation. It has been no surprise to read about a number of success stories outlining to what extent students have made progress against the odds, developing, seemingly by osmosis, skills relating to their learning behavior, which may previously not have been considered important. While the delivery of content will have been impaired in many settings, skills like following instructions in a virtual environment, from a screen, learning independently, linking new concepts to known material, memorising, self-regulating, persevering, learning from mistakes, etc. have become survival techniques which students, often isolating at home, will have shared, and exchanged with each other around the globe.
At Doha College, a high-performing 3-18 British International school linked to the British embassy in Qatar, the children of the British expat and international communities have been benefitting, since 1980, from a very disparate multi-cultural environment in which the soft skills of international understanding are fully integrated within the English National Curriculum and disseminated as a matter course.
In 2018, the college became the first accredited High Performance Learning school in the world, having adopted the HPL philosophy, developed by Prof Deborah Eyre, as the academic mantra and all-embracing culture across the school two years prior. In the course of the four years that HPL has been dominating the teaching and learning culture at Doha College, all stakeholders (students, staff and parents), even those who were initially somewhat skeptical, have become fully invested in the philosophy, simply because there has been so much to show for it, and at such a phenomenal speed.
Within a year, public examination results at all levels increased by an average of seven percentage points at top grade level (A*-A, and A*-B) leading to a steeply progressive curve, a trend which would continue and improve further year-on-year. In the summers of 2019 and 2020, we celebrated our fourth year of best examination results ever. While this is hard and fast data which proves success, it is by no means all there is. What is much more lasting and, with it, a guarantor for on-going success is the culture shift that we, as a school, have mastered.
Doha College, like many other schools across the globe, was on remote learning from March until June 2020, and has been on blended learning, a mixture of face-to-face, remote and home learning, since September 2020. Our success with HPL was complimented by the use of AI to personalise learning. Since 2019 our students have been learning with the help of CENTURY Tech’s AI-powered learning platform.
We were curious to establish the difference between what our students learned in the first term of 2020/21 – when we were delivering blended learning following two terms of remote learning – and what they typically achieve in a first term. We also looked at how our students’ attitudes to school, their teachers and themselves as learners may have changed over said period of time in comparison to previous years.
In essence, Doha College students across Primary and Secondary very performed well pastorally, as shown in a Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) survey. Academically, they achieved, on average, just as highly during remote and blended learning as they did before the pandemic. While we observed minor differences between the sections (Primary and Secondary) and across the year groups, on the whole, the attainment levels in Maths and English in Primary and Secondary are comparable to the historical data (three-year average). That said, the data revealed a notable amount of sensationally high achievement across the year groups. Beyond all expectations really! Only a minority of students, who will now be in our focus with tailored top-up teaching sessions in the time normally reserved for co-curricular activities, showed marginally lower attainment levels.
The students’ attitude to self and school, according to the PASS survey, was on a par with previous years across the Year Groups in Primary and Secondary. Compared to previous years, the Doha College scores have been maintained or improved in the way of student attitudes, in particular their feelings towards school, their teachers and themselves as learners. The most positive responses came from the younger years, and the most positive developments have been observed in Years 4, 9 and 13, compared to previous years. Years 7, 8 and 10 felt slightly less positive compared to previous years, but the scores are still high.
So, what does the comparative data say?
EYFS assessments: 6% increase in attainment at or above age-related expectations on average;
NGRT reading assessments: 0.27% increase in average standardised age score;
EYFS assessments: 40% increase in attainment at or above age-related expectations on average;
KS1 & 2 Maths assessments: 7.99% decrease in average score;
KS3 assessments: 4.8% increase in average reading scores, and 1.43% decrease in average writing scores;
KS4 assessments: 9.45% increase in average English Language scores, 13.7% increase in average English literature scores;
KS5 assessments: 31% increase in average English Language scores, and 39.25% increase in average English Literature scores;
KS3 assessments: 0.05% increase in average scores;
KS4 assessments: 1.76% decrease in average scores;
KS5 assessments: 5.34% decrease in average scores;
So, what has worked well, and what were the contributing factors for our success during remote and blended learning?
The uncompromising focus on learning behaviours (Values, Attitudes, Attributes – VAAs) to supplement and crystalise the students’ advanced cognitive skills have led to learning outcomes that exceeded all our expectations. The students’ self-regulation skills improved by the day as well as their strategic planning. The, by now, deeply ingrained open mindedness has clearly helped many students flourish, even when adapting to prolonged home learning.
During this unprecedented period our students, further developed, personalised and intensified, often dictated by circumstances, the following HPL skills:
VAAs – Practice, Perseverance, Resilience, risk-taking, open-mindedness
ACPs – Self-regulation, strategy planning, connection-finding, problem solving, automaticity and open mindedness.
Furthermore, the periods of remote learning and blended learning have vastly increased our staff and students’ adaptability to using technology confidently and at short notice. This stems from their innate ability to develop an automaticity in the application of knowledge and skills. Firefly, which we are using as a retrieval-based information platform for the entire community and as a vibrant and much-vaunted VLE, has been as much of a contributor to the overall achievement over the period of the pandemic, as have specific iPad apps, which students could use on their individual mobile devices. The use of collaborative tools such as Zoom, Google Docs and apps like Padlet to develop collaboration and interactivity in the remote and blended learning processes have been also significant contributors to these successful outcomes.
Nothing has done as much for our students’ progress during these difficult times as the use of artificial intelligence (AI) provided by CENTURY Tech’s platform. The personalised support to each and every child through clever, automated questioning aimed at encouraging the students to dig deep into their own toolbox, find connections, use prior knowledge, etc., solidifies and future-proves all learning. The highly adaptable programmes, which are linked to the relevant syllabus content, keep going back to what the students know while progressively moving forward. This is a highly effective way of using VAAs and ACPs in every student’s daily learning experience. CENTURY Tech takes the lid off learning and all progress made can be tracked and monitored by the class teachers.
While no-one could have predicted it, there were also other aspects which, according to our findings, have help us achieve these fantastic learning outcomes:
- While on blended learning, the Ministry of Education in Qatar insisted on 50% class sizes, which we affected by dividing the school into two, with either half of each class attending on alternate days, each face-to-face teaching day being followed by a home-learning day. The resulting much smaller class sizes have provided opportunities for highly focused and much more personalised teacher interventions;
- In order to master the content delivery in half the time, each face-to-face teaching day was very much content/ input focused with a minimal amount of time spent on consolidation, which benefited the most able, who then often shared their understanding with others on the following home-learning day;
- The home-learning day being reserved for consolidation, students could take their time, do focused research on the internet to supplement their learning, consult fellow students or their teacher, and practise at their own pace;
- The curriculum could thus more easily be adapted to the individual, ensuring that the needs of all learners are met;
- It also allowed for the adaptation of pedagogical approaches, such as flipped learning, so the time spent in the classroom could be optimised.
While we are naturally very pleased with the discernible progress Doha College students have been making during the pandemic, we cannot underestimate the adverse impact on education in general. Maybe some of the tools and tips described in this blog may help schools, wherever they may be, develop retrieval strategies so that any long-term negative effects on children’s learning may be curbed.
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