Innovative Practice - There's an app for that

11th November 2011 at 00:00
Keeping track of pupils' progress with bespoke software that can be accessed by students, teachers and parents

The background

Providing one-to-one tuition for all its students has been a central part of Bryanston's work since the public school was founded in 1928. Each pupil at the Dorset school is assigned a personal tutor, who works with students from a range of age groups. And each pupil receives weekly assignments and one-to-one work review sessions.

Keeping track of pupils' work across all their subjects can be tricky for tutors, and the school used to record individuals' progress with A4 paper charts. However, over the last five years it has been using a virtual learning environment developed by the educational technology company Studywiz, which staff and pupils have used increasingly to store marks and comments about their work. In turn, this has led to teachers carrying laptops to tutorials. Some members of staff wondered if a more portable and accessible system might be created.

The project

Bryanston was picked as one of eight pilot schools across the world to have a bespoke app designed for them by Studywiz. The school's director of studies, Pete Simpson, and its director of technology, Andy Barnes, worked with the company, and with staff and pupils at the school, to decide what material should be included.

Staff can use iPhones, iPads or laptops to mark pupils for effort and achievement, and comment on what they need to do next. Students can also record their comments and reflections, and respond to what the staff have said on a "wall" similar to the ones found on social networks such as Facebook.

Personal tutors, department heads, and housemasters and housemistresses can also comment and get updates. The system also allows parents to see everything written by or about their own child, although they cannot add comments themselves.

Emails can be accessed via the app, as well as individuals' calendars - particularly helpful as a reminder for tutors who meet their students in different places around the school.

Mr Simpson says: "It's speeded up our monitoring of pupils' progress to a huge degree and it means there are no end-of-term surprises for anybody. The crucial thing we are trying to change is how pupils view their marks, so they don't just do a piece of work, get a mark and forget about it. We want to engage pupils in a process of self-reflection about their progress."

Studywiz says that a more basic app was already available for schools that use its system, but that it expected it would charge at least #163;3,000 for bespoke apps in future.

Tips from Andy Barnes, the school's technology director

- Whet the appetites of pupils and parents by giving them advanced notice of the app rather than presenting it as a finished product.

- Listen to what features the teachers, pupils and parents say they want. Bryanston put out an improved version of the app around four weeks after its initial launch.

- Remember that the purpose is to get pupils to focus on their future progress rather than marks that are in the past.

Evidence that it works

All staff, pupils and parents at the school are now registered on the system. Sacha Moore, a pupil in the lower sixth, says: "It's easier to comment using the app than to go all round the school trying to find somebody, and it can help you to get a problem dealt with quickly. Otherwise, it could be left hanging for a couple of days and you could forget about it. And then it might hinder you later on."

Mr Barnes says that many teachers at the school already had iPhones, while about 60 per cent are principally using the system via laptops.

The Project

Approach: Using a bespoke app to assess pupils' progress

Started: 2011

Leaders: Studywiz and staff at eight schools around the world, two of which are in the UK: Bryanston in Dorset and Testbourne Community School in Hampshire

The school

Name: Bryanston School

Location: Dorset

Type: Independent boarding and day school, with annual boarding fees of #163;29,970

Intake: Above the national average ability level at GCSE, with 125 students who receive specialist support from the school for learning difficulties or disabilities

Inspector's comment: "Pupils' attitudes to work are highly positive. They feel empowered and not pressurised".

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