COVID-19 and ETS 11 Plus Online – Our Story
COVID-19 has changed the way the world educates. The national and private teaching sectors have undergone radical change in the last few months. Education was best face to face, and still is, but the nature COVID-19 has forced parents, pupils and organisations to move to Online teaching. Educational Tutoring Services, a small tutorial centre based in the heart of Birmingham has had a adapt to the changes to survive. A thriving business which has reaped success year after year which has been successful in getting thousands of children into grammar schools has had to change the method of teaching. This is our story and possibly one of many Tuition Centres up and down the country.
How did we handle the COVID-19 Challenge?
Like many businesses, overnight we had close our doors to students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. ETS is a small team of 8 staff, and during the COVID-19 crisis we started off by emailing the course contents to our clients, in the hope that it would provide business continuity for a short period of team, but it became very clear in April 2020 that COVID-19 was here to stay long term, so we initiated a programme to provide our years of expertise in 11 Plus Preparation Online.
Planning to go Online – getting the framework ready
This was not easy to say the least. We had to first establish a framework, with so may Learning Management Systems to choose from we eventually procured what we consider to be the most comprehension Learning Management System on the market. This was just the start of the pain, it then took weeks to set-up and understand the capabilities of the Learning Management System, understanding it’s strengths and weaknesses. We very quickly learnt that the system would do around 70% of what we wanted it to do as we wanted one of the best online systems on the market, so we then procured further portals to get our framework in place. Once our framework was in place, we then had to find a high availability and performance platform partner to host our site on, as this system would be data processing intensive. In total it took us around 6 weeks to get this far with the set-up, one might be forgiven for thinking the hard part was over, but we were far from it.
First Stage to Building the best 11 Plus Online System.
Now the hard part was to come, we now needed to adopt the system to put our decades of 11 Plus material and experience into the system.
The learning systems these days are very advanced and we wanted to create the best 11 Plus Online system available in the UK market, so it was not just a matter of loading papers online and expecting children to be motivated to learn on it. It had to be interactive, it had to keep the child motivated, provide help on anything they are stuck on, so lots of hints and examples, mark their work, present stats back to them, reward them with incentives and the list goes on.
Organised our lockdown team
To create the best 11 Plus Online system on the market required us to organise our staff into teams and knuckle down on the challenge to make this happen. We organised our staff into 4 teams allocated a high level brief of our targeted 11 Plus themes and grades of questions and set out for success.
11 Plus Online Team 1
Team One went through all our 11 Plus presentations, videos and teaching aids we used over decades and extracted all the relevant components for the 11 Plus Teaching themes we had agreed. Their job was to provide the first line of instructions on ‘How to do Questions’. This element is fundamental to ensure that the child can self-learn when they are stuck on questions. To produce this output the team had to think from the childs point of view, the instruction must be written in simple English in a clear and structured way, not always as easy as it sounds! This was a painstaking task, taking information and extracting so that it shows you ‘how to do a question’. This team was responsible for teaching the subject matter online. They did a fantastic job here.
11 Plus Online Team 2
Team Two, unfortunately also had a painstaking task, they had to go through thousands and thousands of 11 Plus questions that we had accumulated over almost 3 decades, evaluate them as relevant and suitable for the current 11 Plus Syllabus, grade each question on difficult level from 1 to 5 for the 11 Plus subject theme we had agreed. This information was then interrogated for gaps and if any were identified, then they would have to create new 11 Plus questions for that theme, we created over 3000 new questions in a window of 8 weeks. It was important that our Online 11 Plus course complemented our teaching at the tuition centre, and not replaced it. There is a premium for face to face teaching that no online system can fill, but we wanted our 11 Plus online system to be the best alternative way of teaching.
This was half of their task done, these thousands of questions now needed to be organised into challenges or mini tests based on question grades and difficulty. The structure had to motivate the child with a mixture of questions, covering Verbal Reasoning, Maths, Non-Verbal Reasoning and English. These questions need to interweave into the structure at the correct balance of the real 11 Plus entrance exam. The final straw for them was to compile this data into a suitable format for it to be read into the Learning System.
11 Plus Online Team 3
Team Three, worked from the output from Team Two, they evaluated each and every question complied and produced meaningful ‘Hints’ and ‘Examples’ on how to guide the children through the individual questions. This again was looking at the questions from the learning child’s point of view, the hint had to be clear, written in simple English and easy for a child to understand. They were also responsible for the first pass of the QA (Quality Assurance). They would vet the teaching instructions, the questions, the question grades, the answers, the hint, the examples, course structure, pass marks for drip feed lessons and the total content, evaluating against the current 11 Plus Syllabus.
11 Plus Online Team 4
And finally, but not least Teams Four was the technical team responsible for loading the consolidated data in a meaningful way into the system, ensuring that each and every 11 Plus question was presented to the user in the correct format, with all the associated 11 plus teaching aids. Their most important task here was to perform the final system QA, communicating with the other teams for correction and amendments. Reloading the questions into the Learning System and validating issues. Once this painstaking task was done they finally signed off our flagship 11 Plus Online course into production.
11 Plus Online Course Launch
So, after approx. 3 months, 100 days, 800 hours we have released month one of our 11 Plus Course available for our students to try. The course was launched on 15th June 2020.
We are continuing to work on the course for the subsequent lessons and maintain the highest standards of delivery.
We have had some very good feedback from parents who have enrolled to month one of the course. Our desire is to have sufficient content for 12 months, but as you can see from above we have our work cut out to produce this high quality material. We have had a look at some of the 11+ online systems on the market, and ours is by far superior. It facilitates a challenge drip feed, with a minimum mark that the child must get before they can move on. This ensures that the child learns the topic areas before moving on, this provides structure to the course and prevents the child trying lot of different work together. It is very important to provide a structure to 11+ learning ensuring ‘one learns to walk before they can run’. This model is simulated for the individual days, and then at the end of the week the new weekly lesson is released. At the end of the week the child would be presented with a 60-minute timed test. This will test the child on everything that the child has learnt during the week. If they do well with this test they will be rewarded with a certificate of achievement. Once they have done the daily tests or the end of week timed test, they can do them repeatedly to improve their marks.
The net result is that the child learns the concepts being taught, performs a final timed test and receives a certificate and progresses to success in the 11 Plus final Exam.
See below some comments we have had back from parents:
‘The system is so easy to use, if I can navigate around the system and I’m not a computer expert, anyone can!’
Mrs J Sohal
‘ I love the way the system provides a path for the child to follow to do the next test, it is so controlled and of course you cannot just jump to the next test without passing the first one – so no cheating allowed’
Parent of Jonas
‘We are home tutoring our daughter for the eleven plus and we have tried lots of books and other material, we have also used other online learning systems and this one has worked the best for us’
‘I really enjoy using the 11 Plus Online course because it teaches me things I don’t know, and I can get help from my dad when I’m really stuck – it sometimes helps my dad as well’