Exploring key innovations from during the pandemic
Our latest meeting explored key innovations from during the pandemic. This included everything from the introduction of virtual work placements to educational interventions for anti-social behaviour. Of particular note were Scotland’s Western Isles, which have made excellent use of technology to scale up interactive online teaching. The approach has proven so successful that Scotland has now rolled the model out across the mainland. In the words of Angus Maclennan (Headteacher, e-Sgoil, Stornoway): “The Western Isles are on the periphery geographically but in the centre educationally.” You can hear more from Angus and from Louise Misselke, Principal of Guernsey College, in Edge’s recent podcast, Island Education – Lessons from the Pandemic.
We also heard from Lee Johnson (Assistant Principal, Curriculum and Quality) from Highlands College in Jersey. The only Further Education college in Jersey, Highlands has around 4,500 students. This includes 14-18-year-olds although the majority (about 3,000) are adult learners. The college performs well - 91% of learners meet robust destination measures and the college has a low achievement gap. All this hangs on a comprehensive skills-based curriculum.
Preparing students even better for adult life
While Highlands is a college in robust health, closer inspection by their team identified an opportunity to prepare students even better for adult life. All students currently take three A-levels or equivalent, despite many not needing that many separate qualifications to reach their chosen destination. The college found too that there were opportunities to update the curriculum with the latest digital skills and promote a global, multicultural outlook.
To address these issues, the college decided to redesign its curriculum and qualifications. While maintaining a smaller number of core qualifications to ensure progression (the student’s ‘major’), they want to team this with a ‘minor’ to ensure breadth. The new curriculum also incorporates four ‘broader focuses of experience: health and wellbeing; enrichment and global citizenship; future and digital skills; and next steps. Highland’s hope is for these components to culminate in a new, world-recognised Jersey international qualification, regulated by a renowned awarding body and helping to produce rounded future adults. This links closely to Edge’s work with Rethinking Assessment and may well be an inspiration for the future.
Next, we heard from Nicola Kennedy (Deputy Head) and Laura Williams (Teaching and Learning Co-ordinator) from Castle Rushen High School on the Isle of Man. In 2019, the school identified areas for improvement at Key Stage 3. The curriculum was not challenging or integrated enough. This caused various issues, including with the transition into Year 8. Edge was delighted to send Helen Beardmore and Kat Emms from our team over to visit Castle Rushen as they developed innovative ways to integrate cross-curricular project based learning.
How do 'Quests' help students?
Students now undertake projects that address a common theme across subjects. The aim of each project (or ‘Quest’) is to boost student autonomy, promote research skills and develop connected thinking. Each Quest culminates in a presentation, assessed via a mini-report from their teacher but also through self-assessment. This encourages students to reflect on their performance, strengths and development areas.
How does this look in practice? At Castle Rushen, Year 7s now have one or two regular teachers, combined with longer lessons to encourage deeper exploration. Quests rotate in six-week slots, during which students explore a given theme. So for the theme of ‘power’, for instance, students might consider power from a scientific perspective, within history and even in PE. As they progress, students decide what to explore, who they’ll work with and how best to develop and present their ideas.
Castle Rushen launched the Quest model in 2020. Despite the impact of Covid, they’ve already extended it into year 8. This hints at what will hopefully become a successful and robust blueprint for schools elsewhere in the UK. You can get support and insight into Project Based Learning from Edge’s team by signing up to one of our free workshops.
Although small, island jurisdictions are agile and often self-governing. This makes them excellent for trialing new models. The example of Stornoway supporting the Scottish mainland during lockdown also illustrates how fast island approaches can be scaled up. Islands can be potential goldmines of innovation… treasure islands, indeed!