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The Snowball effect

If you had asked me four years ago where I see myself in 2021, I would certainly have got the answer wrong. I would have not guessed that my school would be off-limits to the majority of pupils and that I would be teaching through the computer screen. This is not only because the impending pandemic would have felt like something from a science fiction movie but also because it would have been equally unthinkable that the technology would be in place to allow this to happen or that many of the pupils at The Cumberland School would have had the self-motivation or the tech-savvy to arrive at any lesson let alone every lesson.

But here we are…...2021…..The most recent data from the TCS dashboard shows that attendance to all lessons stands at 85% across the school, all lessons are being delivered live via Google hangout and DPR. Work submissions are monitored and all work submitted is marked and graded.

That, however, is not even the best bit. The real pinch myself moment comes when I begin to consider that the work the pupils are completing in lessons directly links with the intended curriculum as set out in each subject area’s long-term plan. This means that 85% of our pupils will return to school having not missed out on massive chunks of the curriculum. On top of that, they have communicated daily with their teachers and peers via the DPR chat supporting their mental health and wellbeing. Of course, there will be some catching up required but I am truly proud of the way my school has supported its community throughout this unprecedented period.

So what was it that happened during those four years that moved this scenario from science fiction to reality? In 2017 The Cumberland school began working with Simon Elliot and Shofique Zaman who had dramatically turned around the fortunes of Forest Gate community school. Shofique was adamant that very near the top of the list of priorities for improvement was The Cumberland Schools curriculum and how teachers, pupils, and parents engage with that curriculum.

I was one year into the role as an Assistant Headteacher at this time and keen to take on a big improvement project. It was then that Shofique introduced me to the DPR (Dynamic Progress Reporting) system. The DPR is a web-based platform, which allows schools to design their own curriculum with differentiated learners in mind. The more I got involved with the roll-out of DPR the more I realised that every teacher needed to feel ownership of the curriculum and understand the building blocks, the ‘what, when, and why’ of their subject curriculum. It would be our amazing teachers that would be engaging with the curriculum content daily and capturing the curiosity and imagination of our pupils.

The DPR allows us to set a path based on key knowledge from year 7 to year 11. These are key objectives that build over time, differentiated by a pathway allocation given to pupils ensuring challenge for all. The language is consistent throughout the school allowing pupils, teachers, and parents to converse about learning gaps. The resource portal on the DPR allows teachers to identify material to support pupils outside of lessons where they require extra support and also stretch material for those that are excelling in a particular KO. Parents being able to contact the subject teacher via the DPR encourages dialogue and has increased parent involvement. Judgments on KOs are made in real-time and celebrated with pupils as part of our explicit direct instruction framework.

These things are not add ons to our teaching, they are the foundations of it, embedded into our practice for every lesson, every day. The common language of learning for teachers, pupils, and parents allows for a better quality of discussion to move the learning forward.

The regularity of engagement with the DPR and frequency of use of the system has allowed us to move to remote learning with minimal disruption. The pupils know how to access their lessons, class chat, check their KOs, collaborate with their teachers to identify a resource that will support them. Most importantly, just like the teachers at the Cumberland school, the pupils now feel a very real sense of ownership over their learning and the curriculum. That breeds confidence and high expectations that have led us to where we are now.

2021, and as I look out my window on this cold February afternoon I see the snow falling. I think of the momentum generated by the snowball effect and can’t help but compare it to the journey that The Cumberland School is on. During lockdown three, 94% of all pupils login onto the DPR 5 times per week, 12 pupils from this cohort of Year 11 have been offered scholarships to prestigious colleges. We have delivered over two hundred devices to families to ensure our pupils can access learning, all lessons are taught live and follow the intended curriculum. The reality for TCS now is that the culture of the school is one that promotes limitless possibilities and I am extremely proud to be a part of that journey.


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