Sunderland Trust provides evidence to help drive policy

9th October 2020

A Trust operating in Sunderland and Teesside has contributed to an Education Select Committee paper which was published at the beginning of September.

The Iris Learning Trust which operates three primary academies – Valley Road Academy, Highfield Academy and Teesville Academy; Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust who run 13 Academies; and Lockwood Primary School submitted evidence surrounding closing the achievement gap to help support the Government’s thinking around this amid ever growing concerns that this will continue to widen due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

The evidence which was submitted to the report was used as part of a study into ‘Left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds’ and specifically looking at how using in a program called freeflowinfo – software which allows parents to communicate with schools in order to support their child’s learning can increase parental engagement with schools. The official report’s executive summary stated:

“Effective Parental Engagement in their children’s learning has the capacity to improve many of the issues relating to the achievement and attainment of disadvantaged pupils, contribute to the narrowing of the achievement gap between vulnerable children and their peers, and narrow any additional gap resulting from the COVID-19 lockdown.”

Trust CEO Debra De Muschamp used evidence of how Valley Road Academy had worked closely with parents through she said:

“At Valley Road Primary School, prior to forming a MAT, we were early adopters of freeflowinfo, which was launched in 2016, and it is the system we use across the IRIS Learning Trust.

It is simple to use, easy to understand and provides all parents, regardless of their own background and personal experience of education, giving them the opportunity to share the excitement for learning that their children experience.

Eighty per cent of what we learn, we learn outside school, so freeflowinfo allows parents and carers to upload photos and short videos that demonstrate their children’s out of school learning from sports, clubs and other experiences, allowing teaching staff to form an accurate picture of each child’s learning capacity.

If you consider that talking and reading with children is more important than talking and reading to children – this is precisely what freeflowinfo enables. It has become a very effective tool for us in closing the attainment gap.”

It seems as though the use of freeflowinfo has been a success in the eyes of parents. In a survey with Valley Road Academy it showed that 70 per cent agreed that the freeflowinfo process had a positive impact on their relationship with their children’s teachers; 80 per cent said it had positively helped them to support their child’s learning; 87 per cent said it meant that they spent more time discussing schoolwork with their children; and 90 per cent of parents said that freeflowinfo gave them a greater understanding of what their children were learning in school.

The Trust CEO added:

“In a poll undertaken at the start of term in 2020, at Highfield Academy, 62 per cent of parents signed up, which is a really strong result in terms of engagement.

Valley Road Academy is a very successful school, the top school in Sunderland in the Real Schools Guide 2019, which performs at consistently high standards, and our engagement with parents plays a critical role in this success.”

Steve Leigh, Managing Director of Engagement in Education, who is based in Durham, said:

“We would like to express our thanks to all those North East schools for the contributions they have made to this Education Select Committee evidence submission in support of such an important issue. Great to see these efforts being recognised as part of the national debate”.

Once again, North East Schools are playing a critical role in driving policy change on closing the achievement gap using new technologies available as well having their voices heard by those in office. To read the full report click here.