Author: Damien Kearns, Principal – Nishkam High School



To understand Nishkam and our partnership with ONVU Learning, it is vitally important to understand our ‘faith inspired and virtues led’ approach to education. Nishkam Schools Trust was built as a consequence of the free school movement brought in by the English government back in 2010. We were one of the first wave of applicants, and at a time when applications were welcomed from various different groups including parents and community organisations. As an organisation, this was the opportunity we had been looking for, we wanted to see if we could bring a distinctly multi faith inspired and virtues led approach into an educational setting.  Faith inspired and virtues led is the lens through which we view everything. They play a vital role in shaping our curriculum and all lessons are delivered under this umbrella. It underpins everything we do including our pastoral work, we have even created our own passport of 50 virtues which are given to students and staff to refer to and are used throughout the school day and encouraged to be used at home as well. 

Faith inspired and virtues led is not just a mantra or who we profess to be. It’s who we are and who we try to be each day, and how we endeavour to view all matters in the educational landscape. This includes both the holistic development of our students and it also drives our unstinting desire for academic excellence. Of course, we also have a standards agenda and use both a specific ‘language of learning’ as well as a ‘Great Teaching’ framework, which is not our invention but is the work of the Education Endowment Foundation; we have adapted this framework for our purposes and it has contributed to the school being recognised as an outstanding Ofsted educational provider and between 2017 and 2019 our GCSE outcomes were in the top quintile nationally for both progress and attainment; at the same time, our most vulnerable children (Pupil Premium) achieved attainment outcomes that were higher than their national non-Pupil Premium peers. In essence we closed the ‘disadvantage gap’  

Remaining an outstanding Ofsted provider is one of our key challenges here at Nishkam and this is where the partnership with ONVU Learning plays an important role. The introduction of the ONVU Learning solution gives us an ideal opportunity to nurture both our faith inspired and virtues led ethos as well as make continued improvements to our already successful teaching framework.   

Back in the 1970’s, teaching was referred to as a “secret garden” by Jim Callahan (British Prime Minister at the time), simply because we didn’t know what was going on in classrooms. Teachers, in effect, had total jurisdiction to teach what they liked, when they liked and how they liked. Today as we know, accountability has rightly increased  and ONVU Learning is a way for us to help support our staff in the delivery of our faith inspired and virtues led education. It allows us to see how this actually looks when being delivered in the classroom to our students and for us to provide guidance in a really supportive way.  As you know, many schools conduct an awful lot of learning walks, dropping into lessons for observations. This can often unintentionally lead to the teachers feeling judged every time a senior leader walks into the classroom. Senior leaders also have various other aspects of their work that they need to be carrying out, so it can often be challenging dedicating the right amount of time to learning walks and observations. And, of course, a ‘drop in’ captures only a moment in time.

ONVU Learning allows leaders to support staff without a feeling of judgement, using a comprehensive evidence base (I.e. a whole lesson if needed) in a less intrusive way. With our teacher’s cooperation and approval, ONVU Learning gives us the ability to record lessons every day and review the footage; this allows us to work with them to provide coaching, mentoring or peer to peer support. On the other side of this it allows us to show our teachers how good they really are! Recordings can be used to help others across the school and the Trust as a whole to help influence future teaching strategies. I fundamentally believe Nishkam is an outstanding school because of our ability to weave our faith inspired, virtues led messaging within our delivery of the curriculum. Being able to capture evidence of this to build our own learning library to share with others is something we are very keen to do and ONVU Learning makes this possible.

If our work can play a role in helping other schools develop, grow and improve through the use of ONVU Learning then Nishkam wants to be part of that. ONVU Learning is an instant way of accomplishing high impact for Nishkam both within and beyond our own walls.

Of course, ONVU Learning technology and its ability to allow teachers to remain in control of the footage from their own classroom was what first drew me to ONVU Learning, but it has been the people that have made this relationship so successful. I believe in relationships built on respect and trust and all those I have come into contact with at ONVU Learning I have found to be welcoming, committed to developing the technology and have a real desire to support this key educational initiative. This shows in every capacity of their work from the quality of the camera to the quality of the backup.  

Nishkam’s vision for the future is to continue to strive for excellence, nurture our young people in their faith and continue to weave our golden thread of virtues throughout our curriculum. We do this not only to ensure excellent academic outcomes and performance development but to ensure healthy personal development to all within Nishkam. I believe that ONVU Learning is going to be an invaluable tool for us as we move forward with this vision for our school.