Torquay Academy is an 11-18 state-funded Secondary school with almost 1,500 pupils in the Devon seaside town of Torquay. Some parts of Torquay are amongst the most deprived areas of the country, and at 35% the proportion of our pupils attracting pupil premium funding is way above the national average.
The school has undergone a rapid transformation over the past five years, driven by our principal Steve Margetts. A significant upturn in results across the school - combined with an emphasis on world-leading facilities, resources and teaching & learning - has led to the school becoming heavily oversubscribed. This year we received more than 800 applications for 240 places.
It’s been a pretty dramatic journey. Tassomai, an online learning resource that gives students personalised daily practice activities to identify learning gaps, has played a major role alongside the recruitment of the right teachers and big improvements to resources in the science department, under the leadership of associate assistant principal John Mellitt.
We were one of the first schools in the country to adopt Tassomai as a homework tool about five years ago, but its use was limited to Year 11 pupils, and of them, only really committed students were using it. The students that embraced Tassomai made big strides in their performance. It’s only in the last two years, when we’ve taken a much more strategic approach to use of Tassomai, that we have seen a positive impact on a large scale.
I was head of Physics at the beginning of our journey with Tassomai; I’m now head of Online Learning, leading the use of the system across the academy. I think this shows just how big Tassomai has become here.
We had our challenges at the start. At first it had a negative energy about it, and we had lunchtime detentions full of students who had not done the work. Then I began to read blogs from Tassomai founder Murray Morrison, and these inspired me to take a different tack. I decided to incentivise the use of Tassomai and created a competition in which every science class participated in a league table, with the winners receiving small prizes. It was transformational.
The magic of Tassomai is the algorithms that underpin it. The questions a student gets wrong come up more frequently than the ones they get right, and their understanding is reinforced by asking the same questions in slightly different ways. It’s a form of targeted, adaptive mastery practice, done in an engaging, energetic way that keeps the students' attention.
Our forward-thinking principal approached me with an idea to apply the power of Tassomai across all subjects across the school that contained a written examination component. The positive part of lockdown was that it gave me the chance to really drive this idea into reality. In a unique collaboration with Tassomai’s content team, we trained all teachers online in the process of creating questions using a question generator given to us by Tassomai. Within four weeks our team of expert teachers had written 26,500 questions, covering the entire curriculum.
Fast forward to September 2020, and the fruits of our labour began to take shape. We now give our students daily goals to complete in subjects across the curriculum on Tassomai as part of their compulsory daily homework. In a 7-day cycle, they will be expected to complete between 9 and 16 goals a week, depending on their year group. We make a big deal celebrating those that hit all of their targets; currently 60% of our students hit 100%. That’s pretty impressive at this stage. Our goal is to increase participation so all students complete all of their Tassomai work. To achieve this, a lot of our attention over the next year will be on eliminating the potential obstacles - that a small minority of students face - that may make engagement on Tassomai difficult, such as disruption at home or difficulty getting hold of devices.
Lots of schools set exam questions for homework, but for me that is totally flawed. These should be done in class with the expert – the teacher - in the room. Homework should focus on reinforcing knowledge. Our philosophy is to work the hard stuff in lessons, and reinforce it on Tassomai.
I was gutted about the lockdown, because we don’t have data on how our use of Tassomai would have influenced results in the 2020 GCSEs, but I’m certain it would have had a huge impact. There certainly was a clear correlation between the 2019 GCSE results and student engagement with Tassomai. It’s so obvious to us that if students do Tassomai regularly, they will know their facts and they will have a solid foundation to apply their knowledge correctly under pressure.
Our students know the importance and value of Tassomai because they can see that they have made clear progress in their assessments compared to two years ago. The stats show just how engaged they are: our students have answered more than 3 million Tassomai questions this year, with 320,000 being completed in just one week this term.
Our teachers, meanwhile, are buying into Tassomai because they can see that the more students can build their base knowledge the more they are able to apply it. We’ve already made big strides with Tassomai, but there’s more to be done. I think the potential is huge.
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