CASE STUDY SERIES: Peter Tankard, Senior Lecturer, Secondary Education and School Direct UPL

“The best way to eat a bunch of grapes”  Supporting School Direct students at a distance using PebblePad

The Core Science PGCE began to use PebblePad several years ago to track trainees’ progress whilst they were on placement. This was a small-scale pilot to try to improve communications whilst trainees were on placement.

Prior to adopting the system, when trainees went on placement their record keeping and tracking was historically not very satisfactory. In Peter’s words: “everything felt really asynchronous – trainees went on placement and came back and that was it – there was no ongoing dialogue”. Very few trainees kept in touch whilst in school so tutors didn’t really know how the trainee was progressing until they visited them on site. Trainees were also expected keep a weekly reflective log to regularly reflect on their teaching delivery and record mentor meetings. In many cases, this did not happen. “There was no real sense of trainees keeping on top of things and they would write things retrospectively once they returned from placement, which was far from ideal as the reflections were much less meaningful”. The Science team found the use of PebblePad a bit of a breakthrough as, even though not in ‘real time’, there was much more of a sense of this ongoing dialogue regarding a trainee’s progress. Such was the success of this small pilot, in 2013/14, the whole core secondary PGCE team adopted PebblePad for use in this way.

Moreover, the trainees’ use of PebblePad was extended to incorporate an ongoing portfolio of evidence and reflections with regard to their workplace learning across both phases of their ‘in school’ training. This work was shared to a secure area which allowed university personal tutors access to monitor trainees’ progress and gave tutors the ability to offer feedback and suggestions in a timely manner. Staff could also offer prompts if trainees seemed to be falling behind. Most trainees engaged with this process extremely well and saw the benefits of using a system like PebblePad, but sadly there were a few that didn’t. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that those trainees that did engage made the most rapid progress. Of course this could be due to a multitude of other, unrelated factors and dispositions. In a similar way, some tutors engaged well and really saw the benefits of working in this way

With the advent of School Direct from 2014 onwards, where trainees are based in schools and ‘learning on the job’, the university needed a robust way to track trainees’ progress whilst they were largely in schools. It was decided to use PebblePad as the system was already established across the programme and most staff had a good working knowledge so one barrier had already been addressed.

As an aside, and around the same time, the PebblePad system was upgraded and the new version introduced many enhanced reporting features and functions behind the scenes, which most of the teaching team did not know about until they were demonstrated. Peter calls this serendipity:“We started using PebblePad in one way then, when staff saw its worth, it was then re-designed to get the best out of the trainees and provide a rich vein of data for the programme

On the School Direct programme, at the outset, trainees begin by observing taught lessons, then they move on to delivering lessons themselves. They are constantly observed by mentors and have targets applied regularly. All of these ‘occurrences’ are meaningful learning moments that trainees needed to capture and reflect upon straight away. If trainees did not complete the reflections soon after the occurrence (as was largely the case in the pre-PebblePad days), they would almost render the experience worthless as new learning would be occurring all the time. Reflection is arguably a fundamental skill for a professional. Peter said “our aim was, that by getting trainees to complete the weekly reflections in the workbook, we would produce better teachers at the end. Having dialogue throughout (between trainee and University Partnership Lecturer) made the learning more meaningful, targeted and progressive”.

What did you do/implement?
A bespoke workbook was created for the School Direct trainees and, using adaptive release, pages were released at certain points during the year. Staff were careful not to ‘over-face’ the trainees with too many pages at the outset so just the pages needed for the first term were released at the beginning. Peter refers to this as the ‘thin end of the wedge’ – make the workbook simple and easy to use and then release more complex material in stages. It was important the everyone became comfortable with the software before ‘raising the bar’ in terms of the tasks.

“You cannot eat a cluster of grapes at once, but it is very easy if you eat them one by one” (Roumain)  
Trainees needed to develop their skills very rapidly, therefore short support videos were provided outlining what trainees needed to know. This support resource was created in PebblePad and linked to the first page of the workbook. It showed trainees how they could fill in their weekly reflections and how to document targets set by their mentors. Ultimately, the aim of the workbook was to develop trainees’ reflective skills throughout the course.

Have you adapted/changed anything subsequently?
We refine the workbook each year and sometimes ‘in year’ which is the absolute strength of using workbooks. Also, the reporting function is extremely powerful and the ability to collect data is another of PebblePad’s selling points. The university can download this vast amount of this accrued data to spreadsheets and disseminate it simply to where it’s needed. This was the feature that the more reticent staff were sold on“.

“Pebble Pocket is awesome!”
The mobile app is very versatile for School Direct trainees, and is used, for example, to record transcripts of mentor meetings. When trainees meet with their mentor, they have a conversation and agree targets. A paper-based form is completed which they both sign. The trainee is able to take a photograph of this form with their mobile, and send it directly to their PebblePad asset store using a Wifi connection. This form can then form part of their QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) evidence and added to their workbook.

School based mentors can see a real benefit with this process. In the past, they would’ve held the meeting with their trainee and the trainee was then expected to go away and write up notes of the meeting ‘after the fact’. Mentors were never fully sure that all information was being recorded in trainees’ portfolios, especially if reprimands or hard targets were issued. Now, the mentor knows that the meeting is being documented in a much more realistic way.

What is the evidence on the impact of trainees and their learning?
PebblePad is not currently used for ‘formal’ learning as such, but is more of a developmental tool to enhance reflection skills which, in turn, arguably enhances their learning. Peter would like to develop this area in the future as he feels there is a lot of potential to use PebblePad in a more formal way.

Impact on Staff……
In addition to the School Direct workspaces, Peter has also created a Quality Assurance workspace just for academic staff to use. Each time they visit a school, the university tutor will fill in an electronic form and send it to the workspace for that school. This is a really simple and efficient way to keep all information on a school in one place and is especially useful for consistency if there are staff changes either in school or at the university. It will be especially useful outlining where a school possibly needs to improve and when Ofsted carry out their inspections.

What do you plan to do next?
I don’t know, but as soon as someone presents a problem, my immediate thought is ‘how can we do this in PebblePad”

Student submissions:


Staff can see when a student last accessed their workbook and also how complete it is (%age figure).

An example of a Secondary PGCE workbook with feedback.

NB Feedback can be added as free-text or an electronic feedback form can be designed and used: 


An example of the electronic feedback form staff filled in when marking students’ work:


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