Sparx Maths

Stretching the mathematically able: the impact of Sparx Maths at Bolton School Boys’ Division

Katy Jagger is the Sparx Leader at Bolton School Boys’ Division. This selective, fee-paying boys school has a diverse student population, comprising a range of socio-economic backgrounds; close to one quarter of their student body receives a bursary. A large proportion of their pupils call for high challenge teaching in this academic setting.

As the Sparx Maths Lead and a mathematics teacher at Bolton School Boys’ Division, Katy’s role involves overseeing the implementation and consistent use of Sparx Maths within the school.

We really wanted to focus on personalising homework and making sure that the pupils get work that is appropriate for them but also challenging them.

Addressing the challenges of traditional homework

Before adopting Sparx Maths, one of the persistent challenges the school faced in terms of homework was ensuring that it was pitched appropriately across the broad ability range of their students. Sparx Maths has tackled this by offering personalised homework tasks that cater to each student's abilities and learning goals. The platform stretches high-achieving students while providing robust support for those who require it. In particular, the stretch and challenge element offered by Sparx Maths excited staff the most given the academic nature of the school’s setting.

Katy and her team wanted to provide purposeful, bespoke questions that would engage students and encourage them to dedicate regular, quality time to their homework assignments. Because of the wholesale success of Sparx Maths Homework, Bolton School Boys’ Division has since moved to a system of solely setting Sparx every week, for all pupils.

Pupil and parent response

The pupils at Bolton School Boys’ Division are eager to be seen to be doing well; learning and achievement are widely celebrated in their school context. As a result, there exists high levels of dedication and a real sense of energy around completion of independent work. When it comes to attitudes towards Sparx Maths Homework, Katy frames this as: “they all want to do it, they’re all talking about doing it!”

Something that Katy thinks is unique to Sparx Maths Homework is, in her words, that the pupils “know what’s coming”; the consistency and predictability of homework routines, deadlines and the quantity and nature of the tasks has gone a long way to inculcating powerful, independent learning habits.

Something that both teachers - and pupils - see enormous value in is how Sparx Maths Homework closes the loop effectively and efficiently when it comes to the ease with which they can address areas of mathematical weakness. The team uses the insights page to configure their lessons’ starter questions and as such, pupils walk into class and immediately see that their teachers have got visibility of where they’ve struggled.

At Bolton School Boys’ Division, the parents tend to be very involved and supportive. They reportedly appreciate the visibility Sparx Maths Homework gives them, as well as the video element which means their children can access help immediately instead of waiting a week, for example, for ‘cold’ feedback in a traditional homework setup.

"We really wanted our pupils to be doing HW well, to be doing meaningful questions and to ensure that they are doing their HW and giving it that quality - it's the quality time, not just the quantity of it"

"We have quite a high number of high achieving boys and we need to ensure that they are being stretched and challenged appropriately. We really like the idea of Sparx in terms of the AI and the personalisation for those pupils."

Motivation and reward

Bolton School Boys Division has unrelentingly high expectations of its pupils which naturally leads to impressive levels of independent work completion; Sparx Maths Homework sits well within - and goes some way to promote - this culture.

Katy describes the friendly rivalry that exists among the pupils, whose competitive edges are brought out as a result of Sparx Maths Homework insights. She starkly explains that teachers simply can’t have comparable levels of visibility if they’re just using worksheets. The maths team has decided to publicly display a leaderboard for the additional, optional XP Boost section of Homework, which has not only levelled the playing field as the rankings don't just apply to the top sets, but has also instilled a hunger to ‘be the best’ in their learners.

Katy and her colleagues scrutinise the data provided by Sparx Maths Homework to identify any pupils who have gone up a level. They then go to real lengths to ensure that these individuals are recognised prominently. Certificates are handed out in both lessons and assemblies because, as Katy puts it: “everyone needs to know how amazing these pupils are!”

It's really bringing out that competitive edge of our students and them wanting to be the best and that is something you can't get if you set them 10 questions on a worksheet.

The staff

When it comes to embedding Sparx Maths, Katy has ensured that all the mathematics staff have been comprehensively trained in using the platform effectively. They have focused on implementing Sparx Maths - particularly in the formative KS3 phase - to establish a strong foundation for future academic success. Much of their deeply-rooted success with Sparx Maths lies in the total buy-in and complete consistency from staff that Katy has achieved, and a robust launch to pupils at the start of the academic year.

I like the routine and the consistency and that's what the department enjoy as well.

We have really strong completion rates I think because we are consistent across the department. We are all on the same page and our pupils know and understand this but they also want to do it and that's the culture that we maintain within our department and within our school

In terms of workload, Sparx Maths has significantly reduced the burden on teachers by automating the process of setting high-quality homework tasks without compromising on integrity. The platform's insights page and starter questions generate invaluable data and resources for teachers, who can trust that the tasks their pupils complete on Sparx Maths will complement and reinforce their teaching.

We like the fact that the work marks itself and also we like being able to delve into it and see the questions they may have got incorrect and see exactly where it is and again, using the Insights page to bring up further questions of that type.

Katy is happy to highly recommend Sparx Maths to other schools that are seeking to enhance personalised learning, improve homework completion rates and reduce teacher workload. The platform's adaptive nature and comprehensive features make it an indispensable resource for any mathematics department.

This can take away that concern over the independent learning in homework that they may have over their students outside of lessons, and so from that perspective I would highly recommend Sparx Maths

This really ensures that every pupil is getting that help, that personalisation, that scaffolding that they may or may not need and we can ensure that that stretch and challenge is being provided for them.

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