Michaela Community School is an ‘outstanding’-rated free school in London. Serving many disadvantaged pupils, the school’s first GCSE results last year were four times higher than the national average.
We spoke to Izzy Rice, second in charge of English at the school, to learn how technology has enabled Michaela’s pupils to continue to receive a good education throughout disruption and school closures.
One of the most important elements of Michaela Community School’s success is an emphasis on structure and behaviour. How can you be sure that pupils are maintaining this when they are not at school?
This is a difficult time for schools everywhere. It is impossible to fully replicate the same conditions you have in a school through technology and remote learning, but our kids need structure and we are working hard to keep that in place through a combination of technology and pastoral support.
Because of the type of school we are, we do not shy away from using data to hold pupils to account. We have a powerful culture at our school that encourages pupils to have extremely high standards for themselves; undoubtedly part of our success with technology comes from our pupils being used to being held to account. When we bring up that they have not done their homework, we know the vast majority will do it next time. That in itself has put us in good stead for dealing with the closure of our school in this difficult and uncertain time.
Mobilising our pupils to work hard at home has been crucial. During lockdown, provided you are not squeamish about telling children they are not working as hard as you know they could be, it is very powerful to be able to tell them that you have data showing they are not putting in the effort. To get that data, we have been using technology to set and monitor work.
As a teacher in the classroom, you are constantly glancing around the room checking up on your pupils to ensure your class are really ‘with you’. While this is impossible to replicate when we don’t have the children in front of us, it is possible at least in part to use data to perform a similar function, to address low effort but also to praise those who are working really hard. I can see who is putting in effort and who is not. This is a really great tool for praise, especially during lockdown when they’re not getting the recognition they’re used to from their teachers. For example, looking through assignments I can say to a pupil that I can see they have worked for four hours and persevered when they got stuck. That’s a really powerful tool in our toolbox during lockdown.
How are your teachers using technology to ensure their pupils are working hard?
It varies by subject, but for English we are setting work on CENTURY and Google Classroom. We are setting weekly work, incorporating CENTURY into that. Alongside that we have set up e-tutor groups, delegating pupils to members of staff, who will have weekly catch-ups over the phone with all members of their e-tutor group. In these conversations, they discuss how the pupils are progressing with their work and any issues they have encountered, as well as providing pastoral support. In these meetings, staff use the data from CENTURY to inform their conversations with children and hold those kids to account for what they have been doing at home.
It all comes down to the relationships teachers have with their pupils. This is extremely important when it comes to motivating pupils to work hard when they’re at home and on their own time. CENTURY really helps us with this aspect, because you can look at a particular pupil’s work and, when feeding back to the pupil, you can be incredibly specific about what they have done well and where they can improve. Being able to make kids feel successful by saying you can see their hard work really helps encourage them. Their teachers can set them goals to achieve, while their tutors can use the data from CENTURY to praise and motivate them, or challenge them if needed.
The big challenge we are all facing is how to keep kids motivated and ensure the work they are doing is useful and CENTURY provides a good foothold for that.