Last half-term, we had the pleasure of visiting Launceston College and Bideford College. These two schools are part of the newly-established Athena Learning Trust based in Cornwall, where the executive team are doing wonderful things. From behaviour to CPD to homework, Athena Learning Trust are building a world-class school environment in a traditionally under-served part of the country.
As part of their new teaching and learning strategy, our team has been involved in rethinking Athena Learning Trust’s approach to KS5 independent learning.
Anyone who has taught KS5 will know that it’s a strange sort of middle ground. In September, many Y12 students are still GCSE students in shiny new suits. Yet there’s an expectation that, by the time these students leave in Y13, they will be fully fledged “independent” learners, ready to enter into university education.
Upon joining the 6th form, KS5 students are expected to engage in “independent learning” during free periods. Schools facilitate this time in different ways, from timetabled lesson hours to complete student freedom.
This is the key space in which the Athena Learning Trust has spotted low-hanging fruit. They’ve seen an opportunity to make every second count, to squeeze every ounce of learning they can from students’ time in school. They’ve taken a bold step and done away with the notion of “free” periods.
Athena Learning Trust has replaced all independent learning time during the school day with timetabled lessons, set in computer rooms with a dedicated member of staff. Students now spend this time on Up Learn, working independently through the topics most relevant to them, reviewing taught concepts and addressing their weaknesses to guarantee the highest grades.
In Up Learn, students have a resource that can both teach and consolidate the entire course specification from scratch. Thousands of optimally sequenced, bite-sized lesson videos and a wide range of adaptive assessments ensure that, by completing an Up Learn course, students will have learned every single detail they need to succeed at A Level.
School leaders have set the expectation that students complete 3 hours of learning per subject per week on the platform. These scores are available 24/7 for teachers to hold students to account and praise those hitting targets.
After one half-term, the results have been remarkable. Over 200 users across the Trust have been using the platform, with the average student completing 45 hours of learning: the equivalent of 7.5 additional days of timetabled lessons.
And yet, 45 hours is just the average. The top student within the MAT has completed over 120 hours on the platform. That’s the equivalent of adding over 4 weeks worth of lessons to a students timetable in a single half term!
These countless hours of learning have been achieved without any additional burden on staff workload – Athena Learning Trust has not asked teachers to make any changes to the way they’re teaching. In fact, the opposite has begun to happen – in one school, teachers have decided to replace weekly homework with Up Learn, alleviating the expectation for staff to set KS5 homework at all if they don’t think it necessary.
We don’t yet know what results these students will achieve. But if each student in year 12 can add 7.5 days to their timetable every half-term until their exams in 2024, then the average Athena Student will have completed almost 82.5 days, or 4 full months of additional learning, than students not using Up Learn.