Engagement and Exam Preparation

Warrington Vale Royal College

This project focused on the development of specific English and maths skills in order to promote exam preparation in a small cohort of GCSE resit students. In maths, the focus was to use Kerboodle, an online, interactive textbook resource, to enhance teaching, learning and assessment (TLA) particularly of measure, shape and space (MSS). In English, the focus was to improve TLA around the creative writing process, using online resources and visualisers.

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Warrington Vale Royal (WVR) is a mid-sized General Further Education College (GFE). The locality is specifically deprived and many students are classed as living in poverty. The college has been successful in previous (non-COVID-19) years, obtaining high achievement outcomes in relation to national Grade Point Average (GPA) data (WVR, 2018, online). The Assistant Director of Curriculum was project lead, with a maths and English teacher contributing to the project with their identified groups. They were supported by the maths curriculum manager and a student teacher.

The project’s main focus was to enable students’ improvement within specified elements of their resit course, often those subjects where they traditionally underperform. Students brought with them a considerable amount of ‘baggage’ in terms of prior learning: Mistakes and misunderstandings were prevalent from school or previous study. The project aim was to increase, via remote and in-class learning, confidence in these study elements, alongside an improvement in grade outcome when utilising these foundational subjects as building blocks for improved understanding and achievement. Ten students were included in the project.


Students at the college achieve relatively well on resit GCSE courses, but there was a belief this could be bettered by adapting further the TLA delivery methods and approaches of both the English and maths departments. We proposed to use this project to fundamentally develop and continue the work of previous projects; to ‘rethink’ the resit classroom. This was mainly aimed at using specific online and technological tools to help develop key areas students struggle with most in both subjects. Specifically, the project focused on achievement gap groups; students who achieve low or below expected targets and are from disadvantaged backgrounds as theirs were the greatest need.

The project focused on the key, fundamental skills which students traditionally found most difficult to overcome, and where TLA had been adapted in previous years with mixed results. In English, many students underachieved in the creative writing question of the exam, despite often finding this the most enjoyable aspect of the course. This disconnect led to the realisation that elements of TLA required a fresh approach. In maths, students experienced the same issues with MSS, often carrying confusion from previous modes of study.


The project consisted of activities designed to support remote learning in a multimodal fashion. In maths, the project utilised the software package, Kerboodle, a virtual course/ workbook with interactive activities and revision tasks. This software was linked, via the Google classroom, to enable the teacher to direct individual students towards revision activities, either when conducting remote lessons via Zoom or Meets, or as extension activities when in the physical classroom. The main focus was on the MSS elements of the curriculum, where Kerboodle has a specific package of supporting resources.

In English, the original aim was to use the Kerboodle service for creative writing activities and extensions. However, this did not work effectively as the activities related only to themes, and after some discussion, Kerboodle was considered to have minimal impact. As such, and with lessons remaining remote, the English team introduced the use of visualisers to aid TLA delivery for the annotation of exam questions and exemplar responses. A new member of the project team was introduced at this juncture, to support the facilitation of the project and utilise her existing interest in the use of technology to enhance her practice and student outcomes.

Students took part in an online survey to gauge their starting points with teachers then providing support to address issues arising. To ensure effective evaluation of the project we originally intended to include a student action research team, drawn from the student council, as in previous years. Due to COVID-19, this was not possible so evaluation was carried out through discussions between teacher and students, student survey, students’ and teachers’ reflective testimonials and an analysis of students’ work.

Professional Learning: Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices

The main outcome was the adaptation to delivery which was thrust upon all teachers during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Teachers on the project adapted their delivery, becoming far more technologically focused and confident. In the maths strand, the traditional use of technology involved Notebook software and MyMaths as online VLE support. The advent of the project and the changes to the modes of delivery meant this was extended to be inclusive of Kerboodle, adding a virtual element to the traditional workbook in physical classes. In turn, this influenced a change in assessment practices, moving away from the marking of paper-based to more interactive quizzes linked to Google Classrooms. Kerboodle and its influence on the maths practitioner meant she shared this application professionally with colleagues and its use became embedded into the wider curriculum.

In English, the technological starting points were slightly more advanced, however, the project and the pandemic aligned to facilitate growth in the use of audio/ visual tools to supplement traditional learning. The use of screen capture software led to the initiation of the visualiser to enable distance/ remote learning to improve and create more interactivity, often in real-time, for the teacher and the student.

The reflective skills of the teachers involved in the project improved as they adapted their practice to include more applications and technology to facilitate their sessions. There was a culture of trial and error in terms of some aspects and considering, through reflection, what worked well and could be even better. This contributed to organisational development as findings were shared throughout the English and maths teams and eventually cross-college via our Teaching and Learning Communities. Teachers became far more aware of the impact of their actions on student motivation, especially in terms of the remote learning periods, where some students struggled with mental health and wellbeing related to lockdowns. They developed a deeper insight into students’ needs and how they could be addressed.

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisation practices

The project’s influence upon organisational practices has been significant. Within the English strand, the use of visualisers to promote student engagement was discussed in Teaching and Learning Communities (TLC) and with the Director of TLA, who then introduced the use of visualisers cross-college to other teams. This provoked a great deal of interest, as has the use of the screencasts and audio feedback, all of which sprung out of the move to remote learning and the project outcomes. These planned enhancements are currently shaping curriculum intent and have implementation plans for the next academic year.

Within the maths strand of the project, the main changes could be seen in the use of facilitators (part of the English and maths teams) who support online and in-class learning. Facilitators act as teaching assistants but have specialised skills/ qualifications in English and maths. The innovation of the use of the Kerboodle software enabled students to join smaller break-out groups, working on specific targets. Additionally, the use of more applications within maths as a whole department fed through from the project aims; one of which was the improved and enhanced use of the VLA, Google Classroom, and the integration of the self-marking quizzes for maths GCSE students. Previously this had been held out on MyMaths, but the inspiration to find new applications and tools meant improvements were made to TLA by the enhancement of the provision via software previously thought not to have been available.

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression

Student working at a grade 4 level

Student was working at a grade 4 level, previously having achieved a grade 3, after the interventions of the project focus, especially linked to the use of the Kerboodle interactive workbook

All students within the focus groups were retained, which, in itself, has been an achievement during the pandemic. However, there is justification that the changes to the online delivery, in both subjects, enabled students to work increasingly at their own pace with help and reference points which could be easily accessed and returned to. This was a significant realisation for teachers, allowing them to understand the learning process and experience of students more deeply.

The use of Kerboodle in maths, focused on the MSS element of the curriculum, saw a rise in outcomes for the majority of the group (only 1 out of the 8 students showed no progress). Two individuals in the case studies, SE and JR (Appendix 8), saw their overall grades in mocks and quizzes increase across the curriculum content. The students themselves, as can be seen in the appendix evidence, attribute these positive changes to the way their TLA was adapted within the remote learning periods, and the specific use and access to the Google classroom and Kerboodle site in helping them work at their own pace and access revision or guidance outside of the classroom sessions.

Student testimonial: (Appendix 4)

“Tasks were set out well and easy to follow and understand with the support given”

However, the students commented they still preferred to be in class with a teacher in front of them.

In English, the students also progressed well: (Appendix 6). One student in the project group has commented that

‘they never knew what they were supposed to be writing on the text before and just used to highlight words’.

The impact of the visualiser on the ability of students to annotate correctly was significant, leading to far more detailed and coherent responses in assessed tasks.

English teacher: (Appendix 6)

“The project group are all on track to be awarded a grade 4 as they have very strong evidence files. One of the students has had work moderated by the English Faculty as Grade 5/6, so it is expected that they will achieve the grade 5 overall. The grade 5 student has ASD and has struggled with education and suffers from mental health issues, so this would be a great achievement for them.”

Learning from this project

The period of the project was challenging, given the upheaval of lockdown periods and changes to modes of delivery and attendance imposed upon teachers and students. Teachers learned a lot from this experience and the influence of the project, in terms of seeking out new ways to engage and interact with students. As is probably the case across the profession, they sought ways to teach remotely and found the Meet option in their existing Google classrooms enabled students to be in-situ with their VLE and on a live lesson, providing continuity and support.

The maths strand of the project was consistently applied and, in most instances, very successful. Students still wanted to have physical sessions, however, and once these returned the Kerboodle software was used less but still applied as extension activities. From a department that was considered slow in the uptake of technology, the project allowed teachers to trial technology and applications and share within their communities. As an outcome, the curriculum in maths is being re-designed to incorporate further technology such as self-marking quizzes, flipped classrooms with video support, and the extension of Kerboodle as a support/ revision resource for all students.

The English strand had to be adapted in December, as the Kerboodle software was not as effective as originally expected due to Creative Writing exercises being embedded within other ‘themes’ which did not match with the scheme of learning for the GCSE course and led to confusion for our students. Due to this, the project shifted focus with the English strand focusing on the use of visualisers and audio-video technology to assist students in their remote learning. One of the main focuses was the annotation of language tasks, in real-time, with the practice questions conducted on a Zoom/ Meet. This led to the realisation that the applications and technology being used could be procured on a larger scale and used once teaching returned to ‘normal’ as extension tasks, such as videos to support content or revision, and in-class as live examples, such as visualisers for the annotation of work.

Overall, the use of the technology has greatly assisted in preparing students for their examinations, not only by increasing their knowledge and understanding, but also by increasing their confidence in their ability to improve their grade and successfully meet requirements.
Clearly, the ‘even better if’ would be related to the physical availability of students in classrooms but that was out of anyone’s control. In the maths strand, there could have been more use of Kerboodle once face-to-face teaching returned but the need to complete evidence files for grading superseded this. For English, a consistent pattern throughout the academic year would have been advantageous, however the changes put in place had a greater impact than first expected, especially in terms of being shared departmentally and cross-college once others were aware of what was taking place and their positive impact.


Warrington Vale College (2018) Warrington & Vale Royal College ranked 6th nationally for pass rates, available on https://www.wvr.ac.uk/new-events/news/warrington-vale-royal-college-ranked-6th-nationally-pass-rates/ [date accessed 12.06.2021]