The National Academy for Educational Leadership Wales contributes to the development of the professional capabilities of current and aspiring leaders across the education system in Wales.
Our Innovation Grant can be accessed through the Innovation Pathway and is also encouraged among those who attended the Innovation Series. The 2022 Innovation Series explored ‘Digital Innovation’ and participants submitted project ideas to improve digital opportunities within their schools.
We spoke with Dr Angharad Thomas, a mathematics teacher at Ysgol Bro Preseli, to find out how she heard about the Innovation Grant through their Duty Headteacher, who is an Associate of the National Academy for Educational Leadership Wales and is familiar with the benefits of developing and progressing educational leadership through our Innovation Pathway.
The purpose of Ysgol Bro Preseli’s project was to develop a way of assessing learners digitally, specifically in mathematics. Assessment and feedback are core to learner progress, but this can take considerable time for teachers to plan and prepare for. If a learner also needs additional practice, it is then up to the teacher to create additional resources. The school proposed to use the Innovation Grant to free up a member of staff from the mathematics department to spend time developing online assessments. Dr Thomas elaborates: “There is a free online system, Numbas, which provides the opportunity to develop purposeful assignments for each year group and topic in mathematics. There are several advantages to using this programme, such as putting steps in for complex questions and deducting some marks if pupils click to show the steps. As well as giving immediate, personalised feedback after a test or homework assignment.”
The grant would allow the chosen member of staff to learn how to best utilise this programme so all mathematics assessment feedback is personalised and instant, ensuring optimal learning opportunities.
The first steps of the project involved the mathematics teacher focusing on developing an assessment that was initially suitable for the purpose of Key Stage 3 learners. The project faced some challenges before receiving the funding, such as time constraints to write questions, setting limits on the programme’s variables, and writing feedback, but these were solved by the Innovation Grant. Another issue was that Numbas makes it easy to vary questions through formulas, however, this random assortment of numbers meant some learners would have more difficult questions than others. This could either be solved by creating a review sheet to get a variety of numbers but only giving specific numbers for the test, or by being extremely careful when giving restrictions to the system when choosing numbers. To combat this issue, the school reached out to Newcastle University’s mathematics department who developed the Numbas programme. Dr Thomas explains: “As a result of asking for help, the school managed to create a question where not only do the numbers change, but it is possible to draw circles, squares, etc., where the number of shapes changes for each learner.”
Ysgol Bro Preseli’s project is ongoing, the school’s plan is to use the new assessment system for some of their Year 7 class’s end of unit test and the other classes will sit a paper assessment for comparison. Moving forward, the project’s priorities will be to add to the programme’s bank of questions, translate the interface between the learners and the software, look at how to record the learners’ marks more easily, and expand the team that can use the software.
Part of our Innovation Pathway is looking towards the future, and it is easy to see how schools across Wales can by inspired by the digital innovation fostered by Ysgol Bro Preseli. Dr Thomas reflects: “This project shows that it is possible to create assessments for mathematics which can be completely configured for all ages.
The system that writes the software seems complicated to begin with but if a group of teachers/users worked together, it would be possible to create a huge bank of questions for the use of Welsh-medium mathematics teachers in Wales.”
Over the years, we have supported many educational organisations in Wales on their innovation journey, Dr Thomas confirms: “The funding gives an incentive and makes it easier for schools to be able to undertake the innovative work without adversely affecting the existing provision within the school.
If we learnt nothing else from the days of Covid-19, we learnt the importance of being comfortable using technology. There is so much new software and system development, it is our responsibility to see if we can not only increase reach but expand the experiences within our subjects.”