Valley Gardens is a large middle school in the heart of the Whitley Bay community. Alongside academic success, the school is well known for its incredible range of extra curricular opportunities which adds to its appeal.
We caught up with their Deputy Headmaster, Matthew Hope to find out more about their experience with Epraise.
Why did you choose Epraise?
We used to have a very basic house-point system where the kids would all have a planner which a teacher would sign if they wanted to give a reward. However, it was very difficult to then get that information to a place where we could use it. For example, to keep track of how many merits a student had, we needed to ask the form teachers to fill in a spreadsheet with information from the planners.
We wanted an electronic system, so we shopped around, and were impressed by Epraise. We felt that it was good because it was web-based with easy access and it didn't require a high level of technical expertise. Furthermore, Epraise was very adaptable, allowing us to customise the way we use it to suit our particular needs.
Finally, the Epraise shop was another great feature with students able to see clear benefits coming from having gained points. It was almost like a source of currency and we haven’t looked back since!
What difference did Epraise make?
With Epraise it immediately became a lot easier to see how many points everybody had. We could assess which classes were getting the most points and which weren’t receiving many at all. We could also see which members of staff were awarding the Epraise points and which ones weren't, making everything a lot more transparent.
The accolades and award system in Epraise was another nice way to give recognition to the children. It's also good for the teachers because they can look at a child on their phone and see what they have achieved very quickly and easily.
House points used to feel like they were only for the very bright and able children in the class. We had this sort of tier of children that perhaps were quiet, hard working, diligent children who would do good pieces of work, but it wasn't necessarily getting recognised. Epraise allows us to go back to teachers and ask them to check in with these children and find opportunities to give them more Epraise points. If you speak to the children they do feel they're rewarded and it is a good way to encourage positive behaviour.
Finally the other unexpected benefit of Epraise is it's also been a very powerful tool for attendance, allowing us to move away from Epraise as just a reward system. We use the attendance modules and can see daily attendance which I really like. With the attendance page for instance, I can see straight away if there's a class that hasn't been registered and missing marks.
How do you use the points system? What is the process?
We set it up so that you can award merits through Epraise points for kindness, resilience and respect. The staff have been guided in what each of those mean in practice. So respect would usually be for good pieces of work. If you've shown respect, you've worked hard in class and have been doing what is expected of you. Kindness would usually be given out for people that are assisting others. We have a buddy system in school for instance, and if I feel like they've really helped with the younger child, I'll give a Epraise point for kindness.
We were very keen to try and develop a way of spending the Epraise points that worked for the students. We originally offered various rewards, but we wanted something more tangible, so with this in mind we set up an Epraise afternoon at the end of every term where points could be exchanged for activities in the shop. These are an opportunity for the whole school to go off timetable, with every single member of staff carrying out an activity. If you're the PE teacher you might hold an afternoon on the pitch playing football for example. It could also be outside of school - we have a teacher who is a mad keen cyclist and he was able to offer a cycle ride. Then we would set a price for those. For example, 15 Epraise points to buy the football activity and 25 to go cycling because you get to go out of the school grounds.
For the children it was a real seller. It really made the approach to points important and it put it on the map. Nobody wanted to be the kid that didn't have enough points to do the thing with their friends so you'd have children in the run up to it asking “How can I get a few more Epraise points?”
What has it been like to work with Epraise?
What I like about Epraise is just how versatile it is, as well as the fact that features are constantly being improved. We have been able to set it up in the way that best suits us, which is probably very different to other schools. The platform has been upgraded on numerous occasions and they’ve also pushed out into different areas like attendance and messaging.
In terms of customer support, it's been great. If we've had issues they were very quickly resolved and sorted out. Communication has been incredibly fast and my account manager was excellent. When there were things Epraise couldn't do he was keen to explore this further and share with their programmers for future developments.
Epraise is really easy to use - nobody's ever said to me that they find Epraise difficult. The Google login improvement was a big game changer because people were able to log into their school account and then use that to log into Epraise. It prevented all the issues we've had of forgotten passwords or usernames.
What are your future plans?
Parental engagement is a big one for us and in the future we would like to provide parents with access to Epraise. It’s a very powerful way to get parents more actively aware of how well they're child is doing at school. It also encourages them to be more engaged with the whole process. We would also like to see if there's any additional modules that would benefit us such as the extracurricular one.
If you would like to find out more about the impact Epraise has had at Valley Gardens School then watch our recent webinar where we talk to Matthew about how they are using the platform with their students.