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The Newark Academy in Nottinghamshire, is a mixed, fully comprehensive school that caters for students aged 11-18. Staff and students at the Academy strive to be the very best they can be, and to embed themselves in the heart of the community they serve. The Newark Academy aims to become renowned for delivering excellence and challenge for all, equipping every student with a wide range of qualifications and skills, as well as the ability and agility to be successful in all areas of their lives. There are approximately 670 students currently enrolled in the Academy.

Background

Staff at The Newark Academy were keen to explore solutions and resources that would increase revision among their Year 11 students. Assistant Principle, Katie Vause, had used SAM Learning at a previous school, and thought that it would fit what Newark needed quite well. “We wanted to up the amount of revision students were doing independently. We found they weren’t really pushing themselves outside of lessons, although we had tried various ways to communicate the importance of revision, independent learning and preparation for exams. Having used SAM Learning before, I knew it would push the message a little bit further for us,” she explains.

Preparing Year 11s

The Academy has only been using SAM Learning for three months, but already the results have been extremely positive. Katie explains, “Initially SAM Learning was introduced to encourage revision, however, since we’ve had the SAM Learning team in to show teachers how to get the most out of the system, more and more of them are using it to set homework as well.

“We’ve also set up an ‘Intervention Group’ on it for Year 11 students. This allows us to closely monitor those students who are at risk of not performing to their fullest potential. Teachers can set specific tasks for them too, so now, rather than just for revision, we’re seeing students logging on to complete specific and tailored tasks.”

But it is the self-marking element of SAM Learning that Katie believes really benefits Year 11 students, “In terms of preparing for exams it’s the best learning tool ever; we’re actually seeing our students beginning to understand what will be expected from them in an exam answer, and they’re starting to prepare for that. The fact that feedback is instant too really helps with the whole learning process.”

Whole school engagement

Since introducing SAM Learning, Katie says the entire Academy has been hit by, what she calls, ‘SAM Fever’. “The first week we started using it, we put posters up all over the Academy announcing it, did a number of talks during assemblies, had a launch for parents, and ensured it had a prominent place on our website, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Following that, there was such interest in it from all students that we had to roll it out to all year groups the following week!”

Students love the competition element of it, and the fact that they can play against their friends. The leader board functionality has also proved very popular. “Our leader board is updated every week and is displayed in the canteen. Each week we celebrate the top 10 students from Years 7-11. We also have the ‘10 Hour SAM Challenge’, where any student who completes 10 hours of work on SAM Learning is celebrated; we have about 100 students who have done this so far. We also have the ’30 Hour SAM Challenge’, and would you believe we already have 40 students who have completed that; most of them are in Year 11 which is fantastic, as they’re our targeted group!”

Students really care

As Katie is the main administrator on SAM Learning, she is able to delve deep into whole schools reports, which she says is fascinating. “The reports show us that some of our less engaged students at school are doing a lot of work at home!! That’s been really surprising, and quite encouraging for teachers to see, because you think, ‘actually, yeah, they DO really care!’ You can see they want to do well and they like the praise just as much as any other student!”

Teachers can also see how many times students have attempted a task, which, Katie explains, shows they are determined to succeed and they do care. “That’s really important for teachers to see too. It shows students’ first score and last score, which means progress is easily mapped for both teachers and the students themselves.”

She adds, “Often students tend to revise what they know, as that’s easy to do, it’s familiar, and they have success with it. However, teachers know their students better than anyone; they know the areas they’re strong in, and those where they need additional support. Therefore, they can set tasks that focus on improving the areas students are weaker in, and closely monitor their improvement”.

Parents can also monitor their child’s progress through SAM Learning. Unlike other resources that simply show parents what homework or tasks have been set for their children, SAM Learning gives parents a deeper level of understanding. “Parents can login and see what their child has been doing, how long they’ve been attempting a specific task, and what percentage grade they’ve achieved. They can see a real progress path, as opposed to just what their child has been assigned,” explains Katie.

Going forward

Katie concludes, “It’s only been a few weeks and I already feel we’ve become part of the network! The exciting time for us will be seeing how the exams go at the end of term. We’re anticipating an improvement on last year, but it will be really interesting to see the impact that SAM Learning has had; I imagine it will be significant! In the meantime, we’ll keep rewarding, celebrating and reminding students to get on SAM. My only regret is that we didn’t start using it sooner!”