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In Conversation with Dean Pyrah: Maximising Attainment

We asked Dean Pyrah to share with us how Victoria International School, Sharjah is approaching assessment, intervention and student achievement for 2021. Find out more below:

Dean: First of all, we as a school and as a school leadership team realised the importance of continually gathering evidence from multiple sources over the past year. We believe the focus on evidence gathering of all aspects of student progress; learning; social and emotional wellbeing; engagement etc. has by enabled us to quickly adapt and to enact interventions and processes to maximise learning in this difficult environment.

Firstly, we have been rigorous in the gathering of empirical evidence at a school level though regular observations and data collection of the interactions and behaviours of our students, such as:

  • Student engagement
  • Access and understanding of new learning styles
  • Absenteeism data analysis
  • Work submission data (including the quality of submitted work)
  • Contribution to online discussions or break out rooms
  • Contribution to non-academic activities
  • Student formative assessment data
  • Comparative analysis of longitudinal student performance data
  • Student wellbeing survey data
  • Regular parent teacher student conferences
  • Regular learning walks (virtual)
  • Regular moderation and collaborative planning through Professional Learning teams focussing on direct problems of practice

Drawing not only on the empirical evidence we were regularly gathering at school, we have also looked at external evidence and research into addressing the impact of the disruption caused by the Covid crisis.

For example, documents like the IBO’s “Lost Learning”: What does the research really say? (2020) which looks at a number of studies on the impact of disasters etc. on student learning, and making comparisons and suggestions for dealing with the current Covid crisis. It makes links and draws on practical advice in using the IB “Approaches to Teaching and Learning” strategies to help mitigate the impact on student learning

Also reading widely on the impact of Covid in other countries and seeing the mistakes and successes other schools have had. A community of learning and collaboration emerged sharing good practice.


OS Team: How is VISS developing a portfolio of internally and externally validated work to showcase your students’ skills and talents? Have you considered additional assessments or micro-credentials?

We have shifted our focus to the gathering of ongoing “evidence of student learning” with much less focus on summative assessments in most years across the school. As such we have ongoing assessments of a formative nature with regular feedback using the technology to assist.

We have established a much more visible focus on outcomes and what is expected at the end of a lesson. There is a review of instructional practice and moderation etc. by teachers to makes sure what they are doing is working. And we ensure evidence gathering of student learning to inform teaching effectiveness.

We are also using technology like Seesaw; OneNote an Edmodo to create “portfolios” of student work with clear feedback from teachers- this has brought the parents much more into the classroom as active participants in their child’s progress.

In addition to this, we have done some online benchmarking but have found this to be difficult and the data unrealizable.

And finally, in the senior years, the renewed importance of Internal Assessment and the validity of this process has meant schools have had to ensure that there is clear understanding and time given to ensure the Internal Assessments are completed well and that there is integrity in the process.


OS Team: What are you doing to tee your students up for success for summer 2021 and what intervention and adaptive learning strategies are you using to close those gaps and personalize learning? And what would you say are the biggest differentials; where can principals, academic heads and teachers have the biggest impact on attainment?

  • By having a thorough understanding of the individual student circumstances and needs. Putting in place mechanisms and accountabilities as a school to ensure all parts of the school are constantly communicating.
  • Having high (yet reasonable) expectations from teachers
  • Maintaining a Positive learning environment, no matter whether it is face to face or online teaching
  • Focus on building and teaching resilience skills
  • Help students redefine their own aims and objectives and to rationalise their goals
  • Constant communication with all stakeholders on all aspects of school life
  • Focus on Holistic education (particularly social and emotional needs) and not just academic outcomes- ensuring that stakeholders do not narrow the student needs down to academic achievement only
  • Individual academic and social mentoring
  • Promoting collaborative learning outside of regular classrooms between groups of students
  • Asynchronous learning modules focused on a range of topics like technology; wellbeing; resilience; goal setting; collaboration; dealing with anxiety etc.

OS Team: What skills and knowledge gaps have been created by the pandemic for VISS students?

The most noticeable skills gaps are in the social and emotional sphere, predominantly evident in the adolescent age group. But there are also significant gaps in content across all levels- particularly evident in the senior years and board examined curriculums. Subjects that would have been through content long ago have still not finished courses- exam boards like the IBO are aware of this and say they are building this into their final deliberations for end of year grades.

Significant auditing of content has been done across our school and a “hierarchy” established to ensure content that has a sequential impact is given precedence. Some content that is consolidated content from previous years may give way to new essential content. This needs to be mapped carefully both horizontally and vertically and needs to be reviewed going forward to help rationalise the gaps as we move out of the crisis.

There are also gaps in student’s ability to consult and collaborate in informal settings- student led teaching of each other. As well as gaps in questioning skills and feedback and feed forward skills are very evident – these are clearly more effective in a face to face environments. This also has direct impact on the ability to engender some higher order thinking skills.

Dean A. Pyrah will be speaking at the Raising Attainment Middle East Conference on the 23rd of March, alongside Mary Myatt, Sir Michael Wilshaw and many other great speakers. You can find the full conference agenda and more information here.