George Pindar School, Yorkshire
Could you give us a brief overview of your school and its geographical context?
- 11-16 fully inclusive school in south of Scarborough in middle of council estate called Eastfield
- 640 students on roll – smaller year groups at the top end but now managing to get a healthier intake and it’s stable throughout new Y7 to Y9 – significant issue in area with in-year movement
- 39% in receipt of Pupil Premium, 53% of cohort live in the most disadvantaged areas on the IDACI rating
- Serious weaknesses in June 2017, began process of academisation, finally crossed the line in March 2019 – Hope Learning Trust York sponsors and I took up post as Principal in April 2019 – fourth Headteacher in five years.
What are the most pressing challenges at the moment that you feel SAM Learning has helped you with?
- Been really lucky so far as we touchwood have not yet had to send home a whole year group bubble but covid is circling at all times and knowing that our staff and students are totally clear on how to use SAM Learning is a lifesaver. For students who are not able to be in school – for any reason – knowing that they and we can get immediate feedback on tasks they have completed is a real lifesaver for us, we have adopted a blended approach for remote learning where classwork is set using the Google Classroom platform but for the vast majority of our staff tests including low stakes assessments and quizzes are then set on SAM Learning because our students are so used to it. On any day we have up to 10% of our school community not working inside the school building so having SAM in place is helping us a great deal.
- Staff morale and staff workload is a huge thing for us at this moment. I think we had a feeling that staff would struggle with the move to year group bubbles and the lack of personal classroom but I don’t think we could have anticipated qute how exhausting staff found this – so using SAM Learning for homework tasks but also in lessons for low-stakes assessments has been fantastic. Knowing that a whole level of marking can be removed from colleagues days and that it is such a smooth system that they can schedule tasks weeks and months in advance is so powerful. At the moment we are treading a really fine line- we know that as a school we need to improve student outcomes and therefore there are high demands being made of our staff to push students to strive for success, revise, do homework, work ever harder – but we need to balance that with how much staff can physically and mentally cope with in their lives and this is where SAM helps a lot.
- Our desire to be as paper free as possible is helped by SAM Learning. Our risk assessment does allow for staff to take books in and to mark them but this does mean that staff need to take some extra precautions so having tasks auto-marked is a real boon.
- In terms of catch up and what we have found out about which students need which more specific interventions, the ability to use SAM in a far more bespoke way is fantastic. Too many options force you into a one size fits all model which means some of the students who have the most challenges are not able to access materials and resources without significant support- not the case for SAM Learning due to ability to differentiate to individual student level – respond to their own particular needs or better target support. We have found that students have tackled lockdown work with varying degrees of success and therefore when we have done RAG analysis and analysed the results from low-stakes assessments, there are areas we have needed to pinpoint and SAM has helped us do that.
What were the main reasons that you purchased SAM Learning?
Initially I bought SAM to tackle a complete indifference to any learning away from the school site. Mine was a school where students did not have a habit of completing any work at home, in fact at first when I came here this was also a school where some students did not have a habit of completing work in school!! I knew that in order to improve the atrocious results, we needed to do something differently. We couldn’t expect our students to engage in more traditional offsite revision and I was really inspired by the results of the research which showed the impact SAM could have on GCSE results for students for what seemed like fairly small outlay by students in terms of the number of hours they were required to spend on their work. I had already had good experiences using SAM Learning in two previous schools and I was delighted by the feedback from staff and students in those schools. Two schools ago I had spent months being told by maths colleagues about how amazing a couple of maths products were online and it felt to me as an MFL teacher that there was a real injustice in them getting online lists of work being completed whilst I was struggling with remembering setting homework, remembering to print the worksheet and then remembering to collect it in and chase up missing tasks. SAM took away all of that stress for me!
What has the impact been of your school buying SAM Learning?
The impact has been phenomenal. I am a firm believer that success breeds success and it’s helped us develop real positivity around completing tasks outside of the normal classroom environment and we have then been able to celebrate academic success. In terms of staff workload, this has been a huge issue at my school in the past – we had historical issues with staff absence due to stress at work – and I am certain that SAM has contributed to allowing staff to better manage their work. The roll out was so straightforward – the system is so easy to use that my teachers were able to start setting tasks after an introduction in a five-minute briefing – and they have kept on going! SAM can be used as an exit ticket to check student understanding without having to read through every answer, a chance to assess current progress, a support to narrow gaps and can be set so intuitively. We have teachers who are setting a term’s worth of revision and intervention at the beginning of the year so they can manage their workload and it’s phenomenal.
In terms of raising achievement, there has been an improvement in outcomes over the last year and all our evidence showed us that our results would have improved further this year. We have used SAM a great deal with our Pupil Premium Flywheel Group. Last year our PP Lead ran a series of highly successful interventions through SAM Learning and we are doing the same this year. We have been able to use data from baseline testing to set up intervention groups on SAM and set weekly additional tasks to support and challenge these young people to improve – we link this with increased parental contact and weekly meetings with students to help them catch up and engage them in their learning.
How have your students taken to SAM Learning since you introduced it?
My students adore SAM Learning. Over 90% of our learners are active on SAM Learning and so far this year they have already completed 5567 hours- and last year they completed over 50,000 hours. The engagement outside the classroom environment is incredible – students WANT to practise on SAM Learning, they want to get higher points scores, they want to move up the leaderboard. This is a huge shift for us. One of our core values is being determined and that’s what we are driving with the students. I celebrate the students who redo the same activity repeatedly, every time they do it they are engaging with that material and can improve because of it.
What about your parents, what do they think about SAM Learning?
We have noticed that our families are getting on board with SAM, as they can watch their children engaging with SAM Learning and be proud of them for it, we celebrate those SAM Learning leaders by having prize draws from the top 50 users at the end of half term and it’s brilliant. What families have told us is they think it’s great that SAM can be used on any device that has a browser rather than relying on a laptop or desktop which so many of our families simply don’t have. We also use Google Classroom and we have noticed that engagement with SAM is much better than Google and when we are talking to families they say it’s because they ‘get’ how to use SAM.
What do you think are the most powerful parts of SAM Learning for your school?
I’ve been a huge fan of SAM Learning for years – It’s our go-to tool for setting and receiving class homeworks, with all the huge workload benefits that entails, but the changes that have been made to SAM over the last few years have made it into a really polished tool to fully engage with individual members of your class. The ability to differentiate a task down to an individual level is revolutionary whilst ensuring that teacher workload isn’t compromised because of how straightforward SAM is. The wealth of resources on the site means teachers are always able to find a task that complements the work they are doing and of course Activity Builder is revolutionary. One of the biggest bugbears of teachers of minority subjects e.g. some of the technology options or more vocational qualifications, is that there are no off the shelf resources available to them from the biggest names e.g. BBC Bitesize. Being able to design their own materials in such a user friendly way is incredible for these staff, in fact lots of my teachers used some of their time during the last lockdown getting into Activity Builder, and it has really borne fruit. Because our students are so used to the SAM Learning interface they can really interact with all their subjects through it and the motivational aspects of SAM are massive. I could never have predicted that 90% of my children would be regularly accessing work off the main school site when I started working at GPS and now they are doing and not just as a one off.
Would you say that SAM Learning has made the lives of your teaching staff easier and if so, how?
For very little time outlay it gives them high quality evidence about the strengths and areas for development of every child in their classes whilst saving them time and ensuring that they can then focus on teaching high quality content. It allows them to balance their workload and helps them give highly relevant targeted tasks to students with very little effort.
What advice would you give to other headteachers in the Oxfordshire Teaching Schools Alliance that are considering buying SAM Learning?
I have been using SAM Learning at schools I have worked in over the last ten years and each time I have introduced it, it has solved a myriad of problems that the schools had no idea how to tackle. The impact on achievement in each of these schools speaks for itself – so my advice would be with a carefully designed strategy which ensures that it remains high profile for students and staff in, you will get the best buy in and it will make a difference to your young peoples’ outcomes. Make sure you have one colleague who has the leadership of SAM as a large part of their role – think about where t sits best – and then challenge them on the impact it can make. We have an associate senior leader who has SAM as part of her PP leadership and she has ensured its profile has never slipped – that’s made all the difference.