How Portland Place School is using CENTURY to bolster its unique offering

Posted on 4th November 2021

Posted by CENTURY

Portland Place School is a leading independent school for boys and girls aged between 10 and 16, located in the heart of central London. Alongside their conventional fully in person school, they launched a hybrid online school in 2020, offering pupils the opportunity to learn at home for four days a week and spend one day a week on site.

We spoke to Deputy Headteacher Jamie Whiteside to find out why they chose CENTURY, how they use it and what teachers and pupils think of the platform.  

Why did you choose to implement CENTURY?

When we first introduced CENTURY, we were specifically targeting Key Stage 4 pupils who had a bit of extra time in their timetable during the week and who we knew needed a bit of extra support within one or more core subjects. We wanted a tool that could help address their misconceptions while requiring fairly minimal teacher input, and CENTURY stood out as appearing to be fairly intrinsically motivating for a lot of our students in a way that other online packages often don't quite manage to be. 

Our initial thought was that CENTURY’s potential to aid independent study, combined with the data it provides teachers, could help us to really target the areas that students are not understanding but may not be telling their teachers that they aren’t understanding. 

However, good teachers have a good sense of which tools are working for their pupils, and quite quickly, both the English and the science faculty came to me to ask if there was any reason we couldn’t use CENTURY in the other year groups as well. At that point, we began to explore how it might fit within the school day and our homework and assessment plans to support students across the whole school. 

How did pupils react to the platform?

From the data that is available to me on CENTURY as a school leader, I can assume that one of the key reasons that teachers were asking us to expand our usage of the platform to other years was because it was clearly hugely popular with some pupils. There are a number of pupils who I can see are using it above and beyond the set tasks that they've been given by their teacher, they just keep coming back to it, so CENTURY is now in use in every year group from Year 6 through to Year 11.

Pupils are particularly positive about the platform when you ask “okay, what do you find most effective?” rather than just what they find easiest. If we track who goes on which Firefly page and whose logging onto the platform, the proof is really in the pudding because you can see that pupils are spending hours on CENTURY. 

We have a higher than normal proportion of pupils with a SEND identified need, and it also appears to be particularly popular with some of them. You can see that they're doing more work on CENTURY than anything else. So they might not articulate their thoughts on it, but you can see that it's what they use and what’s working for them.

How did you find the onboarding process and getting launched with the platform?

The onboarding process was really smooth. I think that CENTURY is fairly intuitive to use – students knew what they had to do right away. Ever since we started using CENTURY in January 2020, no one has ever asked me “where do I go on CENTURY? What do I need to do?”. 

Of course, we did have some training sessions with teachers to take a look at the content and explain how to set individual nuggets and create specific courses, and we did a bit of work with the senior leadership team to look at the data that you can view from the top down to see what's going on across the whole school. But overall, the setup and deployment was really easy.

How have you integrated CENTURY into teaching and learning? Do you use it as a homework tool, or during lessons? 

Our hybrid school has an unusual model whereby the students who attend it have all of their lessons remotely for four days a week, and then come in for one day a week to receive live person-to-person lessons. During the days when they're working remotely, their lessons are on Zoom, and outside of their set lessons, we set them study classes to practise and consolidate their understanding of the content they've just covered with a teacher. CENTURY fits in really nicely as a tool to facilitate that.

For example, they might have a maths lesson, then they’ll be instructed to complete some nuggets on CENTURY, and then the next time they do maths, it will be in a lesson over Zoom, and that may then result in more nuggets or courses being assigned to them and so on. They actually have time set aside to work on CENTURY scheduled into their timetables, and it really is key in supporting all of the study time that our hybrid students do when they are not learning with a teacher.

For the fully in-school students, it’s also heavily used as a homework tool. A lot of teachers give homework because they know they have to, and that is their number one criterion, whereas what we ought to be asking ourselves is, “is this homework that I'm setting productive and effective in achieving a learning goal?”. We don’t just have to be giving out worksheets, marking them and giving them back; we can be far more creative with it. And CENTURY is really useful in that regard because it’s not one-size-fits-all; it dynamically adapts to encourage learners to focus on what they are weaker at. That’s something that I think our teachers are really enjoying. 

What advice would you give to other schools looking to implement CENTURY? 

I would say to start with a particular class, cohort or faculty to gradually get teachers and pupils on board. The model that has gotten us to where we are with lots and lots of pupils using it and finding it really helpful did not involve us imposing it on them. We targeted particular teachers and subject areas that we knew were going to be receptive to it, and once we’d gotten them on board, they became ambassadors really quickly. The same model worked well with our pupils. Once they spotted that it was something that was going to help them with their learning, it took off fairly organically from there, without us forcing it on them. 

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