The Rodillian Academy Trust has under its remit, Southway (an alternative provision to mainstream school) which currently has 70 students and its Oftsed Good rated flagship school, The Rodillian Academy, which welcomed 1600 pupils back to the classroom in March after the third national lockdown.
Despite the huge difference in numbers, student demographic and the challenges that the two schools face, leaders at both schools quickly realised that the online platforms they had had in place prior to the pandemic were going to be vital to the way the schools operate going forward - even now the lockdown for schools has been lifted.
While some schools reported that classroom closures during the lockdown, particularly the first one - may have affected education, both Southway and Rodillian were better placed to hit the ground running.
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For years, Rodillian has been using EdClass/EdLounge, an online learning platform created by a British company back in 2008 which specialises in helping schools and students with additional needs, but stepped it up from last March.
It was first used there around seven years ago and back then the school reported a 70 per cent reduction in isolation, a 50 per cent reduction in exclusion and markedly higher levels of student engagement
EdClass was drafted in at Southway in November and with its cohort set to rise to 120 pupils, headteacher, Andrew Percival says even he was surprised by the impact it had for his students, many of whom struggle with mainstream settings or have been excluded from school.
EdClass gives learners the opportunity to pick and choose their content and watch qualified teachers deliver lessons from the national curriculum, starting from basic concepts to the application of skills and more complex scenarios.
Schools can track a learner's individual progress, record achievements and highlight areas students need to work on. It also offers online chat support if students need it.
When it had to be rolled out as the main form of teaching at Southway, staff created learning pathways and lessons to follow on from the lessons they had done at school.
The result was that 25 per cent of students were on board within a week.
One student at Southway who really benefited was Lewis Harrison who said: “I found Ed Lounge easy to access and it meant I could keep learning and improve my education. There were loads of subjects which I could do but my teachers had put lessons on which related to what I did in class which made the learning easier. I found it easy to learn on Ed Lounge.”
Mr Percival said: “We had a whole series of bespoke sessions for staff who set up learning pathways relevant to our students. It is an alternative provision and these are some of the most disadvantaged students in the city. We created pathways that were accessible and within the first week we had a quarter of our students accessing learning online. Those numbers increased over time and it is something that has been hugely successful throughout the pandemic.
“We have continued to use it as part of the curriculum and it is a resource as part of day to day teaching at Southway.”
Mr Percival says the response from parents and carers has also been positive as they could also keep track of how their child was doing.
He added: “If I am honest, the success of it did surprise me but demonstrated that clearly if you provide the right platform, students will come with you. Eighteen months ago we were using it with a smaller group of students but maybe underestimated just how much it could be central to what we were doing and certainly within Southway.”
Mr Percival’s colleagues at the Rodillian Academy had previously used EdClass with a small cohort of its 1600 pupils and when it was needed en masse, the school was able to use EdClass to create an online curriculum within days.
However, Rodillian quickly transgressed to even more sophisticated ways of online learning and that was then done through Microsoft Teams which has remained a core part of Rodillian’s approach to teaching.
Emma Robinson, deputy headteacher at Rodillian said: “In February and March when the pandemic was starting to hit, what was clear was that we were not fully equipped to support 1600 students with live lessons and remote learning instantly.
“EdClass replicated our curriculum online. None of us knew how long lockdown would last and we wanted to make sure there was a continuity in learning and we could maintain the trajectory. It did that for all schools across the trust for all subjects.
“It was accessible to all straight away and had a huge impact for key stage 3. There was a variety in terms of how they could access learning. Initially the response was overwhelming, the numbers of kids that accessed it were close to 1000.”
Now that students are back to school, Rodillian has looked at its approach to teaching under lockdown situations and classroom situations and says the online approach could be really beneficial to how it supports its current year 12 students who missed their GSCEs in the summer of 2020 and also face uncertainty about A level exams and grading this year and next.
However, Ms Robinson said that flexibility granted by the online learning it has implemented through Teams is key to the work and teaching of its FE students.
She said: “We will take the good parts of remote learning and look at how we increase flexibility, particularly with sixth form and them being more adaptable.
“The biggest challenge has been for those years that have been hit twice almost. They did not take year 11 exams and are now in the hardest two years of education doing A-Levels and we have to think about how we support them as by the end of year 13 that will be the first set of formal exams they have taken.”
Back at Southway, which has pupils who may be new to Leeds, have behavioural issues or are suited to learning in a smaller setting - the focus for this term is to make sure that they do not become even more disadvantaged.
Mr Percival said: “We have students who have really engaged during lockdown and continue to do so, but some who have not through a variety of reasons. We are finding that some have become more challenging and more vulnerable and need a very bespoke curriculum and programme of intervention.
“It is important we don’t lose some things from lockdown. Communication is the best it has ever been, online learning is the best it has ever been but it is still about closing the gaps and getting outcomes for young people.”