A new approach to personalised learning could be the solution to halting the increasing educational gap between under-privileged and privileged children, according to one of the country’s leading education business experts.
Personalised learning – an approach involving tailoring education to each child’s needs – should be the answer to ensuring every child fulfils their potential. But critics say it has previously done the opposite, with overburdened teachers struggling to differentiate for each and every child and disadvantaged pupils becoming trapped by low predicted grades.
Now Dan Sandhu, CEO of socially focussed learning technology company Sparx, says a new form of personalised learning can deliver the right results: “Sparx has spent 7 years working with schools to research this new approach. The impact on pupil progress, and particularly on disadvantaged pupils, has been staggering in the schools which have adopted it. Free School Meals (FSM) pupils are now making equal progress to non-FSM. As well, a recent test showed one of our schools, with nearly 50 per cent disadvantaged pupils, had the highest rate of progress in Yr 7 and 8 maths among 16 schools across their county.*”
Sparx is working with schools across Devon including many of those in the Ted Wragg Trust and Education South West, and has just started working with Westcountry Schools Trust.
Dan explained: “Together we have developed a platform – initially for maths homework – where the best of modern technology works in harmony with the essential skill of the teacher. The system carefully assesses what level a pupil is at and sets and marks bespoke homework for each student. It adapts to ensure they are being stretched and provides insights for the teachers which help them support each pupil.”
The approach, which involves pupils completing both online tasks and bookwork, is proving extremely popular with teachers and students alike. It is saving each teacher around two hours a week on admin, planning, and marking and students are more motivated and confident in the subject. One school, which had previously reported lower than 20 per cent homework completion rates, saw that figure jump to 98 per cent after introducing Sparx Maths Homework.
Dan, who was voted as one of Education Technology’s top 100 most influential leaders globally, feels confident Sparx’ rigorously tested approach can have a big impact on pupil progress across the ability range. “Our aim is to improve life opportunities for over 5 million learners by 2030. For us there are no shortcuts. We believe in supporting students for the longer term – making a real difference.”
Sparx is also taking advice from some of the most respected figures in education. Its newly appointed advisory panel includes Simon Lebus, who formerly ran Cambridge Assessment and has worked with governments around the world on curriculum reform, Julian Huppert, Director of the Intellectual Forum at Jesus College, Cambridge, and one of the country’s foremost campaigners on data privacy, and Joe Ludlow, a former teacher who now advises ventures using technology for social and environmental impact.
Simon Lebus said: “People can be very suspicious of machine learning technologies, especially when it comes to children. However, it is possible to apply it in an ethical and secure way alongside skilled teaching to make a real difference to the life chances of all children, and particularly disadvantaged children. We can’t ignore this opportunity to crack one of the most difficult issues in society today.”
Headteacher Stephen Farmer, whose school Cranbrook Education Campus in Exeter came top in the progress test after piloting the platform, believes it is the way forward in teaching:
“This approach to personalised learning is so much better than anything before. The live nature of it is what makes it stand out from the crowd. It adapts as the pupil uses it, making it harder or easier according to how pupils are doing. With other systems everyone gets the same questions and it doesn’t adapt to get the best out of each pupil.
“Our pupils love it. It’s really built their confidence. And the analytics side of it has been really important for the teachers. It gives them specific detailed information on how each student is doing and what they’re struggling with. We would like a Sparx for every subject!”
*In summer 2018, Sparx ran an end of year exam for around 4,000 Yr7 and Yr8 students across 16 schools in Devon. The schools had different demographic and attainment profiles and three of them were using Sparx Maths Homework. The purpose of the research was to understand student progress in KS3 and factors that contribute to it.
At the schools using Sparx Maths Homework, students in receipt of free school meals made the same progress as other students in their school. At other schools in the study, students in receipt of free school meals made less progress than other students in their school.