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Daniel Giardiello - 9 September, 2020

Category : Blog

How to assess the impact of Covid-19 on your vulnerable students – An interview with Mark Oldman, Director of Inclusion and SEND at The Mead Educational Trust 

The Mead Educational Trust (TMET) is made up of ten primary and secondary academies in Leicestershire. In the first week of Autumn Term, Arbor’s Senior Partnership Manager Daniel Giardiello spoke to Mark Oldman, Director of Inclusion and SEND at TMET, to find out how they’re addressing the post-lockdown learning gap, particularly for their most vulnerable

The Mead Educational Trust (TMET) is made up of ten primary and secondary academies in Leicestershire. In the first week of Autumn Term, Arbor’s Senior Partnership Manager Daniel Giardiello spoke to Mark Oldman, Director of Inclusion and SEND at TMET, to find out how they’re addressing the post-lockdown learning gap, particularly for their most vulnerable students.

How are you going to assess the impact of Covid-19 on your students’ progress this term?

In the first few weeks of term, we’re going to re-baseline students using assessments that are very similar to what they took last February. From this, we’ll be able to assess if there has been lost learning, and if so, we’ll restart the curriculum from the point that they need us to, and ensure that deep learning is still able to take place. This is going to be particularly important in the formative primary years.

In order to chart the impact of Covid-19, we’re going to use a “vulnerability index” which, rather than assessing age-appropriate attainment, looks at where each student is compared to where we expected them to be, so we can plan best how to get them back on track. This term we’re applying it to all students so we can gather more information about the situation for each individual. Once each student catches up to where we expect them to be, we’ll move them back onto the usual way of reporting. 

We’re also going to use the Covid-19 Wellbeing Questionnaire from ImpactEd to ask KS2+ students across trust what their experiences were during lockdown, with a focus on wellbeing. Using this structured, universal method will allow us to test the temperature of the whole trust, and gather more reliable data than what Teachers could observe in the classroom. The first questionnaire will happen in the first few weeks back, followed by a second in early October. The second point of assessment will give us our first real data drop of academic attainment, which we’ll be able to compare with the wellbeing assessment at the beginning of term. 

This combination should begin to show us the impact of Covid-19 because it could reveal sets of students who have become vulnerable whom we might not have known about. 


Interventions Assessment: Assessing students’ circumstances

Could Covid-19 have caused more students to fall under the “vulnerable/disadvantaged” categories?

Yes, we’re predicting that Covid-19 will have created a new set of vulnerable students who, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t have been considered vulnerable. Due to having lost six months without the rigour and routine of regular schooling and socialisation with peers, gaps will appear across the board. 

It’s important that we don’t start term with assumptions of who our “disadvantaged” and “vulnerable” students are, but we work out who is vulnerable now. Those who are already acknowledged as vulnerable are at an advantage in some ways because we already know about them and they’ve had tailored support throughout lockdown.

What is likely to be the effect of Covid-19 on your most vulnerable students?

During school closures, the vast majority of our SEND children were coming in – for our schools in very disadvantaged areas, this was a large number of pupils who needed wrap-around family support. In many ways our relationships with these pupils has strengthened as a result, and we hope to use this to our advantage when closing the attainment gap.

First and foremost, we need to assess the wellbeing of our SEND cohorts –  particularly how they’re feeling being part of their class. Although they might not feel vulnerable in the first few weeks, if their classmates are able to catch up faster than them, they may begin to struggle. To combat this, we’ve employed an educational psychologist to come in two days a week to help properly diagnose what our students are going through, such as digging into difficulties at home. We’re also putting our most vulnerable students into smaller “mini” bubbles to make sure they don’t get excluded or marginalised from their wider classes if they present new challenging behaviour. 

How are you adjusting the curriculum to get students back on track?

In KS1, we’re planning an in-depth focus on the formative skills such as literacy and maths in order to make sure they have strong foundations to progress through the rest of school. We’ve also hired an SEMH Primary Intervention Teacher to work with rolling carousels of children on social and communication skills, so as to quickly fill the gaps that could have developed.

What role did technology play at your trust during lockdown, and what role will it play going forwards? 

Going into lockdown, we have a well-developed blended learning policy but what we realised was that not all children’s homes were equipped. We first sent a questionnaire home to assess the access to devices, making sure that we were clear of what we expected, for example “has access to a laptop for at least two hours each day” rather than simply “has access to a device” which could have meant borrowing a parent’s smartphone.

We bought 1,200 Chromebooks and distributed them across the trust. We also invested in a Microsoft learning platform and appointed digital champions to help roll it out. We plan to keep our online learning programme going post-Covid-19 as a means of aiding progress. It will allow students to do extra learning remotely outside of school. Our wide-ranging intervention strategies and expert teaching has been further invested in, and will be the key to ensuring a secure and successful start in our primary schools, and to helping Year 6s transition to Year 7. 

What lessons have you learned from Covid-19 as a trust?

Covid-19 has forced us to collaborate and think more as a trust. For example, it’s given us the opportunity to improve how we transition students between year groups and between schools, particularly from Year 6 to 7. Our Primary and Secondary Leads have been working effectively together and by recognising the strength in each other’s practice, have been able to influence trust improvement plans even further. 

For our most vulnerable students, we’ve learned that this transition needs to be even more personalised, recognising that the effects of lockdown could be far reaching and impact their wellbeing for a sustained period of time. We know that happy schools with meaningful relationships will underpin our approach to intervention in ensuring successful pupil returns. 

We’re going to be catching up again with Mark Oldman in October to see how his recovery and catch-up strategies are working out. Watch this space!

Interested in finding out how Arbor’s cloud-based MIS can help you work more easily and collaboratively this term? Book a demo today, or join one of our webinars | 0208 050 1028

Daniel Giardiello - 21 September, 2019

Category : Blog

How Arbor can help you to proactively identify and help students at risk of exclusion

In May, the DfE published the findings from the much anticipated Timpson Review, which recommends that schools be supported to reduce the number of exclusions they make by focussing in on early intervention and quality Alternative Provision. In this blog, I will explore the implications of this on schools and discuss how Arbor MIS can

In May, the DfE published the findings from the much anticipated Timpson Review, which recommends that schools be supported to reduce the number of exclusions they make by focussing in on early intervention and quality Alternative Provision. In this blog, I will explore the implications of this on schools and discuss how Arbor MIS can help schools to use data to intervene proactively with students and better understand their holistic needs, before they reach the point of being an exclusion risk.


Are current intervention strategies timely enough?

Prior to working with Arbor, my 13 years as a teacher and senior leader were spent both in Mainstream Secondary and in Specialist Education for Behaviourally Challenging students, so I have seen both the before and after stories of mainstream exclusions. 

When a child comes into a full time AP or SEMH school, it’s often the case that they have been excluded, not just once but many times, and are trapped in an ongoing, negative spiral of:

Image 1: A diagram showing a child’s negative behaviour cycle 

Trying to re-instill a sense of self-worth and value for learning into individuals who seem almost broken by this experience is very difficult at the post-exclusion stage. We succeeded with many, but not with all. 

For those with whom we didn’t, I often wonder… Could it have been a different story if during their more formative stages in education, greater focus had been placed on developing their necessary dispositions for learning, rather than hammering home a nearly entirely academic curriculum? For students who are more resilient and better at regulating their emotions , this is ok; but for those who aren’t, early subjection to repeat experiences of failure will trigger innate safety behaviours such as escape and avoidance, which in the classroom context will display as refusal to work and disruption to lessons.

This opens up a broader debate about the appropriateness of the curriculum we deliver and whether we are assessing the right things for these individuals – something I discussed in my previous blog which focussed on SEN Assessment. Whilst there will never be a silver bullet answer to the “what to do?” question for all children (this will differ depending on context), my overriding feeling regarding “when to do it?” is that, in nearly all cases, it could have been earlier in the story and not at the point where behaviour had already become unmanageable. But how do we know when is best to take a different approach? That’s where the effective use of data comes in! 


Data driven intervention

During my time in schools, I have seen and implemented a fair share of behavioural initiatives and policies, some of which were successful and others less so, but in every instance their success was dependent on the quality of information that fed into them. Data-wise, the two most important questions to ask are:

  • Is the data gathered in a timely enough way for the actions it informs to actually have an impact?
  • Is the data telling us something we don’t already know?

Unfortunately, the answer to these questions isn’t always “yes”. In many schools, it’s hard to act on data in a timely way, as there’s usually a heavy reliance on the manual collation and analysis of it in order to find meaning. Therefore, intervention is often carried out at the point where behaviour is so severe or prevalent that you don’t even need data to tell you there’s something to do. So, you become a reactive culture. 

Negative behaviour doesn’t occur in isolation; it’s often linked to other factors, such as home-life, literacy, attendance and pastoral issues. But due to the siloed nature of data in schools (as illustrated in the systems diagram below) it is also difficult to combine different measures into simple, quick analysis, or to easily know what’s been going on with a child. 

Image 2: A diagram showing the siloed nature of data in schools  

Arbor MIS makes it easy to input and analyse all your core data in one system. With all student data brought together on simple profile pages, it’s easy for staff to get the holistic overview of a student that’s needed in order to plan more specifically for their needs. This is something that’s crucial to Liam Dowling, and the staff of Hinderton School, an Outstanding Cheshire SEN school who specialise in supporting students with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC) and social communication difficulties from a young age. 

Image 3: A diagram showing the way school data can be brought together  

Hinderton’s short inspection letter from June 2017 praised the school on the interconnectedness of it’s systems, meaning that all stakeholders have easy access to the data they need:

“Your online systems, which work seamlessly together, make sure that senior leaders, staff and parents all have the information they need at their fingertips. As a result, you have streamlined and improved all aspects of information relating to pupils.”

Hinderton’s short inspection letter – OFSTED June 2017

Hinderton are one of nearly 800 schools who benefit from Arbor MIS’ ability to:

Give staff easy access to the full story of a child to enable better understanding of needs

Image 4: A demonstration of how Arbor MIS gives you the full story of a child

With appropriate permissions, all information ranging from communications with parents, attendance, behaviour and SEN history is visible in one place. Understanding what has gone on with a disaffected child is crucial to knowing how best to work with them and Arbor makes finding this information as easy as possible.


Automate behaviour action and analysis

Image 5: A demonstration of how you can automate behaviour action in Arbor MIS

Arbor’s automatic workflows within the behaviour module ensure that students who exhibit persistent low level behaviour across multiple lessons are always identified and action is taken without an administrative burden to staff. This helps schools to ensure that negative behaviour is appropriately challenged in all instances and isn’t allowed to snowball to the point of being unmanageable. 


Link Interventions to Data

Image 6: A demonstration of how you can plan interventions with Arbor MIS

Arbor allows you to create interventions with Participant and Outcome criteria that pull data in from anywhere in the MIS. Therefore, students could be recommended for a Behaviour for Learning intervention following a slight change in behavioural patterns at an earlier point in time than when it becomes prevalent and significantly disruptive to others.


Customise Assessment frameworks to target specific needs

Image 7: An example of how to customise assessment frameworks in Arbor MIS

The Springwell Special Academy are an Outstanding SEMH school who make full use of Arbor’s flexible Assessment system to host specific frameworks that fit their students’ needs. This enables them to focus on social and emotional development, resilience and student wellbeing as well as tracking academic progress. The image above shows the input page of a framework they have developed called the SEMH tracker. 

In conclusion, the Timpson review has brought about a greater emphasis on schools to develop strategies to help students whom they may otherwise exclude. The four tools above are just a few examples of how Arbor could help schools in collecting more specifically focussed data to use in a more timely and targeted way in order to help improve the holistic outcomes of these vulnerable students. We recognise that the challenge isn’t easy and the “what to do” expertise lies with the people who know the students best – a piece of software isn’t going to be the solution but could play a significant part in the data strategy that drives the change! 


If you’d like to find out more about how our simple, smart cloud-based MIS could help you transform the way your school uses interventions, contact us. You can also book a demo by calling 0207 043 0470 or email