Let Teachers SHINE winner 2024: Benjamin Barker – Progress Checker

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The Principal of a brand-new secondary school in Liverpool is developing an innovative app which aims to transform communication between teachers and parents.

Benjamin Barker wants to “build something different from the norm” at King’s Leadership Academy Wavertree, which is due to open in September 2025.

He has received a development grant of £10,000 from Let Teachers SHINE to help him fine-tune his idea to create an app that allows teachers to give video feedback on pupils’ work.

Benjamin wants to “move away from old-fashioned paper reports and parents’ evenings that don’t give the bespoke detail needed to help pupils progress”.

He hopes his Progress Checker app will address “the significant communication gap between teachers and parents in secondary schools”.

This gap, says Benjamin, leads to missed opportunities for parental engagement in children’s education, a lack of awareness about student achievements and challenges, and potential misunderstandings or misinformation about classroom activities and progress.

“The rapid shift to digital learning environments in recent years, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has made the need for digital communication tools even more acute,” Benjamin says.

“The traditional methods of parent-teacher meetings and printed report cards are increasingly insufficient in our technologically evolving world.”

Benjamin says Progress Checker will be an “innovative, user-friendly, and efficient way for teachers to share important information and updates with parents”.

Progress Checker will allow teachers to quickly create personalised reports for each student, which are kept up to date throughout the school year.

Benjamin’s project is part of his vision to create a school that does things differently.

“There’s something about schooling now that I honestly don’t think works for a large number of pupils,” he said.

“I don’t want to just open an average school, where more than half of students don’t get a grade 5 in maths and English (Summer GCSE exam results 2022).

“We need to take a good look at the way schools operate. What systems do we use because it’s what we have always done? What inherited methods shape our teaching? Why do we adhere to them? Do they really work?

“I’m a big proponent of at least asking the right questions and asking if certain things are worth doing the same way everyone does them. I’m not about necessarily throwing everything out, but let’s at least consider other options.”

Benjamin feels traditional paper reports and time-consuming parent evenings are not the best solution to improving communication between parents and school or helping parents better support their children.

“We think if we can clear the path for more parents and give them a better insight into what their child has been doing, it will make a big difference.”

Over the coming year, Benjamin hopes to develop a working version of the app, including the incorporation of some generative AI features.

He is also considering trialling the system in schools that are in the same Multi Academy Trust as his new school, the Great Schools Trust.

“I’m really excited to see how it will develop over this next year and then, hopefully, we’ll be successful in applying for the full grant in the following year.”

Benjamin hopes that he will be able to demonstrate the success of his Progress Checker app and that in the future it will be used by many other schools across the country.

Fiona Spellman, CEO of SHINE, said: “Relationships between parents and schools are so important, but we so often see that parents don’t feel they are kept up to date about student progress, and teachers struggling with workload in creating reports or updates.

“We know that technology can be transformative in sharing information in an accessible way and building communication, and we are really excited to be supporting Progress Tracker in this innovative new school in Wavertree.

“We are very much looking forward to seeing the app as it develops and understanding the impact of Benjamin’s innovative work on parents, schools, students and families.”

Click here to read about this year’s other winners