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blank Daniel Giardiello - 1 December, 2020

Category : Blog

How our “catch-up” strategy is going – 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 September, we spoke to Mark Oldman, Director of Inclusion and SEND at TMET, to find out how they were assessing and aiming to close the post-lockdown learning gap, particularly for their most vulnerable students. We recently caught up

The Mead Educational Trust (TMET) is made up of ten primary and secondary academies in Leicestershire. In September, we spoke to Mark Oldman, Director of Inclusion and SEND at TMET, to find out how they were assessing and aiming to close the post-lockdown learning gap, particularly for their most vulnerable students. We recently caught up with Mark again to hear how he’s been implementing those strategies and how they’ve been going.

You can read Mark’s conversation with Dan, Senior Partnership Manager at Arbor, below.

How are your strategies going for getting students “back on track” who you identified as behind at the beginning of term?

For our primary schools especially, the strategies we’ve been implementing have been really useful to in many ways reinforce what we already knew – that embedding the key skills that will be most useful going forward is much more important than re-covering the curriculum. 

In the past, we might have used short-term interventions to target students who fell behind in reading, for example, but what we’re finding more effective is looking at the skills we’d anticipate they would have embedded had they had a normal year last year, and spend a bit more time on them. As a result of focusing on the skills, we’ve seen their progress in the curriculum catch up naturally. 

For our secondary schools, they’ve been using a well mapped-out, sequenced curriculum which we’ve adjusted, rather than filling gaps or “playing catch up”. 

This approach has been a rapid and valuable CPD process for new Teachers who have joined the trust this term, as they’ve had the opportunity to spend a bit longer embedding good quality teaching and learning practices with peer coaching from a more experienced practitioner. 

What data have you been using to assess gaps in learning?

At the beginning of term we looked at the vulnerability index to assess students as individuals across all school areas. We also used ImpactEd’s Covid-19 Wellbeing Questionnaire for our KS2+ students. This helped us identify key vulnerable groups, some of whom we didn’t necessarily expect to be vulnerable, who had become vulnerable as a result of the initial lockdown. We’ve also just run our first academic assessment which we’ve been able to analyse in relation to the vulnerability and wellbeing data. 

What has been the benefit of using ImpactEd in particular?

Because it’s a national data set of 60,000 students, ImpactEd has allowed us to benchmark our students against national averages. We found that our students are about 70 points above the national average, which I attribute to the fact that we used it in tandem with the vulnerability index, which means we’re looking at wellbeing much more broadly.

Our ImpactEd results have backed up our approach of embedding key skills, as well as the other initiatives we’ve put in place this term, such as our regular contact with families and sending out additional food packages. When we re-ran ImpactEd this week, our students have made about 15% progress on average across their anxiety, wellbeing and metacognition scores.

Another benefit of ImpactEd is you can drill down into each student’s score, which has allowed us to identify the nuances to students’ anxiety. It’s meant we’ve been able to put in place really bespoke interventions, along with our team of educational psychologists and a SEMH practitioner. Examples have included simply increasing the number of positive reinforcement opportunities that we would do anyway in the year, such as hot chocolate with the Headteacher. We’ve also thought about the ways we’re meeting and greeting students, and we’ve arranged “bubble” parties. 

It’s really important to us to give all students a sense of belonging at school. We believe there should be no student who doesn’t think they’re the most important person in the building.

What has been the effect of Covid-19 on vulnerable students that you were already aware of? Did you see a rise in any antisocial behaviour over the summer?

We had almost 100% success contact with our Key Worker primary school students over the summer holidays, with staff making weekly visits to selected families. At secondary level, this was more difficult because students had more unstructured time and since they returned to school, we’ve seen an increased sense of anxiety. 

For some of our most needy students, the rigour of Covid-19 regulations has actually helped them reintegrate into school and stay out of trouble because they’ve known exactly where they need to be and what they need to do.

We have, however, seen the onset of more mental health problems this term. We were prepared for this to a certain extent, as we hired two Educational Psychologists over the summer, knowing that we’d have more vulnerability and SEMH cases that would need to be diagnosed effectively. We’ve also had a targeted interventions team working with smaller bubbles off-site. 

What strategies and initiatives will you take forward after Covid-19?

We’re confident that we’re planning and sequencing learning in the right way, and together with our new IT equipment, we’ll be able to set more effective homework and more effective interventions in future. We’ll keep the IT equipment refreshed, and make sure that our most vulnerable students continue to have access to additional equipment. 

We hope our blended learning will allow students to work effectively wherever they are. We’ve given all students aspirational targets which they’ll be able to achieve better as a result of having a Chromebook at home. The Chromebooks have been really popular, and students enjoy using them for school work and to structure their time effectively.

What have been your main learnings and do you have advice for other trust leaders?

The main thing we’ve learned is just how important it is to cultivate a school community and to get to know your families well. The second is the importance of Teachers and the impact they can have on students throughout their lives. We have really valued the efforts of everyone across our schools, in many respects they have been the anchor for their local communities and provided a constant source of support, love and care to everyone associated with their schools. 

For fellow Trust Executives, my biggest piece of advice is that you can afford to scale back on things like your normal QA process or auditing measures, and instead focus on a few really pertinent areas of practice that will make the biggest difference.

Have you been able to collaborate more across your trust as a result of Covid-19?

Yes, definitely. Our SEND provision in particular has benefited from us working more closely together across the transition between primary and secondary. It’s also benefited from us working more closely with the wider community, for example we’ve been able to expedite transfers of our students to local special schools where needed. 

Across the trust, we’ve tried to balance the communications we send out about Covid-19 regulations and health and safety etc., with the sharing of best practice across schools. This is because we recognise that our practitioners are ambitious every day – they don’t just want to make schools operate safely, they want to go above and beyond. 

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blank 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

tellmemore@arbor-education.com | 0208 050 1028

blank 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 tellmemore@arbor-education.com.