Following a disappointing Ofsted Inspection in 2017, West Thames College — an FE and HE college offering a range of vocational, adult and pre-university entry level courses — was faced with several daunting challenges related to teaching and learning.
The Ofsted report, which identified Maths, English and attendance as key areas ‘Requiring Improvement’ (RI) highlighted several gaps in the colleges teaching and learning practices — namely a lack of stretch and challenge and ineffective delivery, assessment, and lesson sequencing in the classroom.
With student success at the top of its agenda, the West Thames College Management Team responded quickly to the issues outlined in the report. A ‘Post Inspection Action Plan’ was put in place which incorporated a review of the college’s TLA policies. The plan included shorter but more focussed learning walks within 18 newly established categories identified for improvement.
Within a year of the implementation of the plan, monitoring visits reported improvements in many of the categories identified for development. Other categories however, such as stretch and challenge in the classroom, still required improvement. And despite progress being made, two additional barriers that were standing in the way of further progress, were identified by the College Management Team.
Firstly, the college was relying solely on feedback as its main development tool. Marta Gajewska-Kopczyk, Director of Core Skills and Teaching and Learning — one of two quality directors at the time who volunteered to tackle the teaching and learning issues highlighted in the report — said;
“Our main tool for supporting teachers was feedback following lesson observations, learning walks and training sessions. But the quality of feedback was inconsistent, and we didn’t have a tool that we could trust that was broad enough to cover the range of teaching contexts that we operate in but specific enough to address the challenges that teachers were facing.”
Secondly, the team realised that they needed a tool that would empower and enable teachers to take responsibility for their own professional development. Marta explains; “We wanted to give teachers support that would encourage them to drive their own learning. But we needed to offer expertise that our staff would trust and be willing to invest their time in. Essentially, we needed a tool that was evidence-based.”
Evidence-based platform ensures faculty buy-in and impacts student success
With prior experience of the HOW2 app in a previous role, Marta firmly believed in its value and could see where it would fit in as part of the college’s efforts to address its core teaching and learning challenges. She was particularly impressed by the app’s central ‘barriers to learning’ feature, which allows teachers to search for a technique based on the problems they are experiencing in the classroom.
Targeting a range of requirements
Working closely with the HOW2 team, the college opted to create sets of HOW2s that matched the 18 newly identified categories for improvement. A key set was created to work in practical workshop settings catering for the college’s vocational courses including motor vehicle, hair and beauty, construction, plumbing, photography and art and design.
An additional set was created to support teachers responsible for level five and six courses across the college. The sets were introduced to teaching staff initially following lesson observations and given in response to areas identified for improvement.
Marta said; “Since introducing the platform, teachers can see the purpose of being observed because they can see the benefits that the HOW2 techniques bring to their students. We’ve seen a shift in terms of their openness and willingness to engage in teaching and learning initiatives.”
Motivating and engaging students
With close to 1700 full-time and 3000 part-time students, the college caters for a broad range of learners, including those with gaps in their education prior to enrolling at the college.
Marta explains; “For many of our students, we only get one chance to get it right. They may have had a poor experience at school, so we spend a lot of time and effort at the start of the year to get students to engage. We have a responsibility to those students who may have had a disadvantaged background and we want to give them a chance in life. The HOW2 app has really helped us with engaging students right from the outset — particularly in Maths and English.”
From ‘RI’ to ‘Good’.
In September 2021 the college received a ‘Good’ rating from Ofsted. The college attributes its improvement in the quality of its education, in no small part, to the HOW2 platform’s instructional coaching expertise. Attendance and student retention has remained high and in 2020 the college was awarded an ‘Outstanding’ for behaviours and attitudes.
Now the college’s VP of Curriculum and Quality, Marta is confident in the HOW2 app’s role as the team enters its post inspection-phase;
“We’re really looking forward to working with the HOW2 team to take our teaching and learning practices to the next level which will revolve around peer-to-peer, collaborative learning communities.”