Transforming student outcomes through human stories at Pontefract Academies Trust

Tom Fay - Pontefract Academies Trust
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As our world changes and becomes ever more interconnected, the ability to connect with diverse cultures and ideas becomes increasingly critical for both personal development and professional success. In this blog, first published on CST in Febrary 2024, Tom Fay, Director of School Improvement at Pontefract Academies Trust, talks about how the trust is using Lyfta to help create a curriculum that truly engages and stimulates all students, where they can seek truth and beauty in the world around and beyond them.

Students exploring one of the storyworld spaces on Lyfta
Article on CST blog February 2024

This article, from Tom Fay was first published on the CST blog in February 2024. You can read the original CST article here.

Tom Fay is Director of School Improvement at Pontefract Academies Trust, working across the trust's seven primary and two secondary schools. Tom has considerable leadership experience in primary, secondary and FE sectors, as well as significant experience as an Ofsted inspector. His passion lies in the development of teaching strategies to make learning sustainable and transferable through the various key stages and beyond. He is a qualified coach and has contributed to the design and delivery of nationally recognised leadership qualifications.

As our world changes and becomes ever more interconnected, the ability to connect with diverse cultures and ideas becomes increasingly critical for both personal development and professional success. As Director of School Improvement at Pontefract Academies Trust, I want to nurture well-rounded individuals and prepare them to thrive in an ever-evolving society.

Our trust operates in an area with pockets of high social and economic deprivation, with students from a mix of backgrounds. We are determined to create a curriculum that truly engages and stimulates all of them, where they can seek truth and beauty in the world around and beyond them.

A turning point

In May 2022 we were facing the question of how we could effectively bridge the gap between the potential myopic realities of many of our students and their understanding of wider world issues.

At around this time, I attended a MAT leaders conference in Leeds and we were exposed to the immersive learning platform, Lyfta. Little did I know then that this encounter would mark a significant turning point for our trust.

Lyfta's innovative platform of real human stories offers an effective bridge between the classroom and the global community, facilitating exploration of a range of different lives from around the world. It offers easy access to a myriad of ways of living, being and thriving in our increasingly complex, uncertain and interconnected world.

The platform has served as a catalyst for a new way of thinking, connecting core curriculum areas and facets of wider education. Our quest to make learning sensical, enjoyable, and connected for our students found a powerful ally in Lyfta.

I've never, in my entire time as a leader in education, experienced something that immerses students into the learning so deeply. Lyfta has made learning three dimensional and the students themselves talk to us about it in a completely different way. Moreover, there are also so many proxy benefits that we are starting to see, like Lyfta helping our students to learn to read faster, to write for longer, and to process mathematics differently.

It's allowing students to talk about all the things you'd want them to talk about with confidence and fluency in front of external visitors. They speak about healthy eating, finance, those of different faiths, those of different cultures, healthy bodies, and healthy minds - the list goes on.

I've never, in my entire time as a leader in education, experienced something that immerses students into the learning so deeply. Lyfta has made learning three dimensional and the students themselves talk to us about it in a completely different way.

 Tom Fay
 Director of School Improvement
How we are using the platform

Each week, classes across the trust spend around 15-20 minutes exploring the chosen ‘storyworld’ which consists of 360° spaces and soundscapes with rich media content and short documentaries. We leverage the adaptability of the platform and decide which aspects each class will explore.

For key stage 1, the emphasis might be on the sights and sounds of the 360° environments and meeting new people. For upper key stage 2, the focus might be on deepening their understanding of the wider contexts of the stories.Different classes often explore very different aspects of the stories and sometimes these different explorations culminate in a shared assembly, where classes share their learning.

As well as the shared experiences, subject leads across the trust are gradually weaving Lyfta throughout the curriculum. By incorporating explicit links to Lyfta lesson plans and storyworlds in the curriculum documents, staff have easy access to the resources they need to support planning and enhance their curriculum topics

Hear from teachers and students using Lyfta
More enjoyable lesson planning and better outcomes

Teachers have found planning sessions more enjoyable and effective with Lyfta, resulting in lessons that resonate deeply with students. The emotionally engaging, interactive nature of the content and resources has meant students retain knowledge more effectively and it facilitates powerful discussions on personal development and cultural diversity.

The impact on our students' behaviours has been remarkable. Lyfta hasn't just been a tool for delivering content; it has become a catalyst for personal development, fostering confidence and fluency in our students.

We’re really proud of the work we are doing with Lyfta and the collaborative approach we have had, helping to shape the lives of our students and also the platform for the future. We were delighted to have been shortlisted, alongside Lyfta, for this year’s Bett Award for collaboration with a school in recognition of the work we’re doing together.

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