We’re East Learning, a non-profit which helps schools in disadvantaged areas understand their students’ interests, needs and ambitions—in their own words—and use it to make education relevant for everyone. This is particularly important today, in order to re-engage the large numbers of students ‘lost’ to their schools during Coronavirus closures.
Over the past three years, we’ve worked with teachers, students and school leaders to develop “Aspirations”: a way to help secondary schools provide a tailored, relevant school experience for every single child based on their interests, needs and ambitions. Meanwhile, we're collecting new, critical data to map out what exactly the 'disadvantage gap' looks like in every region and school—allowing it to be systematically closed.
While it’s still relatively early days, we’re already supporting 12,000 students across England and our schools are achieving outstanding results—like reducing absenteeism by 24% and tripling the number of students going to top universities. While the programme works for any school, we focus on those in disadvantaged areas.
We’ve included a little bit more information about what we do at the bottom of this page
Reading through student self-assessments with our schools, it’s not uncommon for us to see a response from a 16 year old saying they are “worth nothing”, or that they “aren’t good at anything”. This is as untrue as it is heartbreaking: every time their teachers are quick to give examples of why that isn’t true, from the class who say they do “nothing to help their community” who have organised multiple charity events, to the student who says they have no leadership skills who recently helped mentor a group of younger students.
This project helps address this chronic lack of confidence, by ensuring students acknowledge their strengths and recognise the contributions they can make to their communities. We want to take the data we already have (on self-perceived strengths, progress towards their personal goals, and participation in school events) and use it to create personal “records of achievement”.
As well as providing a termly confidence boost, we plan to arrange this in a way that will make CV or personal statement writing easy. For example, we can highlight their strengths alongside a list of activities they attended which their teachers had tagged as being relevant to that particular skill.
What is the funding for?
The funding is to run interactive design workshops with the students, translate the results into designs, and then build the software features! We have set a minimum target of £5000 to create a “minimal viable product”, however the more we can raise the better the ensuing product will be. In particular, if we can raise a little more we hope to run some ‘virtual work experience’ projects for students who have stated an interest in technology—teaching them about User Experience (UX) design and supporting them to work through a ‘professional’ research brief. This would be a wonderful experience that not many schools have the capability to provide, whilst simultaneously ensuring that whatever we come up with really is what our students want!
SO, WHAT IS ASPIRATIONS?
"Aspirations" is a way to make sure that a school's personal development programme—which is another way of saying "everything except subject lessons"—fits with what students actually want and need.
Aspirations for students
Aspirations starts with an online development coaching platform for students, which helps them think through their strengths and ambitions before prioritising their goals and breaking them down into manageable next steps. The software then recommends school, community and online resources based on their stated priorities—from local sports clubs to age-appropriate websites teaching young people about managing their finances.
Over time, this helps hone their self-development skills (which 85% of young people say they want to improve!) — invaluable in an ever-changing world.
Meanwhile, the process generates a wealth of information for schools on who their students are. Equipped with comprehensive data on their interests, needs and ambitions, they can plan wellbeing, careers and extra-curricular programmes that fit. It also makes sure every single child is ‘visible’ to their teachers, and receives the individual support they deserve—rather than slipping under the radar, the way so many do today.
This is hugely motivating for staff, not to mention empowering for the students. We’ve learned that teachers are the most passionate and efficient executors you’ll come across—give them an idea of something that will support their class, and before you’ve finished your sentence they will already have an activity in place! Our role is simply to provide the reports, tools and training to make this as easy and effective as possible. This is undoubtedly the reason for our success to date, and gives us huge optimism about the impact we can continue to have on young people.
OUR IMPACT: SALFORD CITY ACADEMY
There’s a great video on the school website, with students explaining what the Aspirations (or “Aspire”) programme means to them
Salford City Academy is in an area of high deprivation (37% of students eligible for free school meals—vs a national average of 12%). Two years ago they had minimal extra-curricular provision, and one of the poorest attendance records in the region.
Salford launched “Aspire” in September 2018, using the data captured to
- Create extensive programme of after-school activities for students, based entirely on their interests and requests
- Plan targeted ‘Aspire Days’ each term, combining trips, visits, careers fairs and other enrichment activities
- Inform 1-1 form tutor sessions for every child, to ensure they are getting the support they need
The impact has been dramatic. Their absenteeism rates have fallen by 24% to become the best in the region, while simultaneously halving their suspensions and expulsions. Their academic results also improved quite significantly from 2018 to 2019, particularly for disadvantaged students.