Using edtech to navigate the September return

Natalie Fountain, executive head and regional hub director at Wise Academies, on edtech’s role in supporting the most disadvantaged students

Like many schools and multi-academy trusts across the country, Wise Academies has faced a number of challenges during school closures. As a trust, we manage twelve primary schools and have over 3,500 children in our care. These children come from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds and over half of them are from disadvantaged areas.

When schools had to close as a result of the pandemic, we were fortunate to have education technology already in place to deliver remote learning. We were using programmes such as Accelerated Reader (AR) and myON produced by Renaissance Learning  to engage our pupils and monitor their progress. Although we had never encouraged our pupils to use this software at home before, when schools closed these programmes meant that our pupils had access to over 6,000 digitally-enhanced books through myON and they could continue to read and take assessment quizzes at home on Accelerated Reader.

Having said this, like many other trusts and schools across the country who were making use of edtech, there were a large number of disadvantaged pupils without the devices or internet at home to continue their learning. We knew this because the data we drew from AR helps us create a personalised report for each child, and there were a number of children who hadn’t logged on to use the software.

Edtech’s role in supporting the most disadvantaged students

As a trust, having access to such data enabled each of our primary schools to take action. By identifying the children who were at the highest risk of learning loss, we were able to ring their parents, provide other resources and deliver books to their homes.

Supporting the most disadvantaged children with their education over the coming months will continue to be challenging and concerns over the growing attainment gap are valid. As schools and trusts, we can’t risk a lack of devices or internet connection damaging any child’s right to education. At Wise, we have been fortunate enough to have bought in a central store of 100 Chrome Books in preparation for potential local lockdowns, or a confirmed case in one of our schools where we’d need to send a bubble home to isolate. We have also costed putting WiFi into the homes of our most disadvantaged families or providing dongles for children to use at home.

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We would encourage all schools to use the education technology or data they have available to monitor and track the individual progress of each of their pupils – this will help paint a picture for September. Even if children can access digital books at home or have had resources delivered to them, there is a significant chance that they have still struggled to engage with this material.  We’re currently mapping out our approach for delivering ‘a recovery curriculum’ in September using the data we have from AR and will continue to collect.

Planning for September

We have spent a lot of time considering whether to assess our pupils when they return to school in September and this decision will be different for every institution. The last few months have taken an emotional toll on all of our pupils and staff and protecting their wellbeing should always be a priority. For Wise, we do feel like assessing the pupils is the right thing to do and have planned this for the first two weeks back after summer holidays when pupils will take a baseline Star Reading test.

We want to be able to tailor our curriculum to plug the gaps that are there across our year groups. We’re working with experts at Renaissance Learning to work through the data we have, and the information we will gain from assessing the pupils, to create a ‘Recovery Curriculum’ for our classes. This will enable our teachers to identify where the gaps are in the incoming class and the best way to tackle the learning loss.

As an education community, we know that the real task starts this coming term and working out what is best for your pupils, staff and school community will be different for every school and MAT. As the possibility of local lockdowns looms, it’s important that we transfer the way we deliver education permanently and fully utilise the technology available so no child is left behind. There is edtech available to make this process easier and as a trust we would recommend to any school to try out different systems and discover what works best for them.

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