How educational suppliers can adapt to survive during this period of uncertainty for schools

As a recent TeacherTapp survey reveals that only 35% of teachers and school leaders think a return to full time schooling is likely in September, it’s becoming increasingly clear to educational suppliers that we need to be thinking long-term about our new proposition to schools.

We can’t just assume that come September it will all be back to normal. Whatever you think about the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis so far, we can be pretty sure that not only will we have the present 4-5 months of missed schooling to contend with but the likelihood of further lockdowns to come.

As educational companies we have to prepare for some long-term adaptations to this new normal. Most BESA members are in this sector for the purpose of providing support to schools, through education, resources, infrastructure etc. (After all we’re clearly not in it for the money.)

For many of us this period will involve a complete overhaul of what we offer and also how we highlight the benefits of our offer to schools.

At Third Space Learning, our single minded focus is on narrowing the attainment gap in maths. We do this through a combination of online 1-to-1 tutoring with target groups of children and then an extensive collection of KS2 and KS1 maths resources for class and whole school use, as well as a video library of CPD for teachers around improving maths outcomes in school.

So since March 2020 and the start of lockdown and school closures we’ve been engaged in a thorough review of the support we give schools already and how we can improve and adapt it better to adapt to their changing needs.

Here’s where we’ve got to in the changes we’ve made to what we offer and some of the principles we followed in making these changes.

1.Don’t just start giving everything away for free

 Most education businesses are started with the goal of improving educational outcomes for children. While on the face of it, it may seem that offering a free product will benefit more pupils, in fact not-for-profit businesses have to find revenue somewhere.

Without generating revenue, it is impossible to pay staff, tech costs, improve your offering and ultimately develop more solutions to the problems facing the education sector.

The launch of Oak National Academy this year is a case in point. It’s a brilliant free offering started by altruistic teachers, but it is also being supported at a cost of ~£4.5m by the Department for Education which is the only way it can be sustainable – and continue its high quality output. Not many education businesses can rely on the support of the DfE.

As stated, our mission is to close the attainment gap in maths.

20,000+ UK pupils every year receive 1-to-1 maths teaching from us; if 1we give everything away free, we are not going to be any support at all to these pupils.

What have we done instead: While providing free access to all schools and parents to the thousands of resources in our maths hub would be unfair to those who already pay for it, we have released some of our maths teaching resources as free home learning packs

Aware that many children will be following Oak National and White Rose maths schemes of work we have also created new independent recap worksheets for retrieval practice specifically to match these schemes. Not only do these require little if any parental / teacher support to complete but they are also completely free to all during this lockdown.

In this way we can provide targeted free support playing to our strengths as experienced maths resource providers.

2. If possible, open any schools product up to parents

1-to-1 maths tutoring is clearly a pretty obvious one to offer up to parents. However, up until school closures Third Space was very much a schools business providing interventions and resources just to UK primary schools on the basis that this is where the greatest need is.

What we’ve done: Parents can now register on our maths hub to download resources and they can sign a single child up for the online maths tutoring where previously we only accepted schools signing up multiple children. We are also now looking to help schools and parents from all over the world.


3.Upskill and engage parents and carers who will be taking a much larger role in their child’s education

 The Third Space blog sharing best practice in maths teaching and primary school leadership, receives thousands of visitors every day, but until very recently these were mostly teachers and school leaders and the content assumed a basic level of pedagogy and curriculum understanding.

What we’ve done: During lockdown we’ve added lots more blog posts and guidance aimed at parents to support with teaching maths at home whether that’s explainers on tricky terms from the maths curriculum like bodmas or place value or some step by step guides on topics teaching fractions for kids. We’ve also noticed a greater interest in ‘fun maths activities’ and maths games so have created ideas around that too.


4.Respond to changing needs of schools

 It’s almost inevitable that there will be another lockdown (or at the least, localised lockdowns) and schools are understandably nervous about committing budget to any product or service at this point when usage may be disrupted throughout the course of the next academic year.

What we’ve done: We’ve always tried to provide a flexible service to schools, allowing them to change which pupils receive support as often as they wish, or change what time they want their provision to be at. Before schools closed, we planned internally then made schools aware that we could continue providing lessons to homes, and provided appropriate comms and support for them to send home.

The vast majority of pupils have continued to access lessons from home throughout lockdown which is testament to how much children enjoy their online maths sessions with us. We’ve seen far greater engagement and usage among the children we teach than the national statistics around completion of assigned school work.

For new schools joining us in September, they can confidently sign up knowing that they can continue receiving the full value of support that we offer, regardless of the national outlook.


5.Prepare now for the catch-up whenever it comes

We understand that on pupils’ return to school, there will be a complex range of issues that headteachers and their staff will be addressing. These will vary from school to school as always depending on the make-up of their community and each child’s individual experience of this period of lockdown.

At some point however schools will begin the process of assessing pupils’ learning gaps and deciding what teaching or maths interventions to put in place to plug these gaps.

What we’ve done: We’ve always made sure that pupils receiving our 1-to-1 intervention undertake an adaptive diagnostic assessment first to ensure we’re teaching to their gaps and schools are getting best value for money.

Given the fact that teachers will suddenly have so many more children to assess in maths and so many more gaps, we’ve also taken the opportunity to break apart and rebuild our own diagnostic assessment. We’ve been determined to improve and innovate during this period to better serve our schools, and refine our own processes. The result is that in September:

  • We will be able to create learning programmes that are even better targeted to the needs of each child
  • We are now expecting to be able to let schools use this diagnostic assessment with all pupils in the autumn term, not just the ones receiving our 1-to-1 online tutoring.

These are just a few of the more significant changes we’ve made to Third Space Learning since the start of lockdown. I’m sure plenty of other BESA members will have done as much and more. We’d love to hear from you about how your own organisation and its business proposition has changed over the last 4 months. Please tweet @thirdspacetweet or @besatweets with your response.

To find out more about how Third Space Learning can support Years 1 to 7 with catch up maths interventions please visit thirdspacelearning.com or call 020 3771 0095