National education and training specialists, The Progress Group, have successfully secured £200k investment from InnovateUK to develop pioneering digital technology that will use artificial intelligence (AI) to shape a student’s learning and development in alternative provision.
Working with Edge Hill University, Progress Schools, a subsidiary of The Progress Group will build on research and edtech already in development, moving to a new phase of innovation that will create individualised learning for students unlike anything yet created for the sector.
Progress Schools is a nationally based organisation operating 13 independent secondary schools across England, from Tees Valley to High Wycombe. They provide supportive and inspirational teaching to 13-16 year olds at Key Stages 3 and 4 which is appropriate to their individual needs, with the aim of helping to ensure a positive progression post 16 or reintegration back into mainstream education. The organisation specialises in offering alternative provision to students, many of whom have been diagnosed SEND/SEMH (or are awaiting diagnosis), and/or have been excluded from at least one mainstream school.
The Progress Group entered the Innovation Sprint Programme with Edge Hill in November 2021 as part of the ERDF funded LCR High Growth Programme, with the aim of designing and building a commercialisation strategy for Progress Schools, which encompassed an increase in the number of physical schools as well as an introduction of a Virtual Learning Environment for students. This sprint programme was as a direct result of the increased demand for alternative education provision following the Covid-19 pandemic which saw.
a surge in demand for specialist services where the individual needs of students are increasingly complex. Progress Schools are hoping to harness new technologies to not just cope with demand but improve the student experience and ambition.
Desktop research conducted while working with Edge Hill found an increase of 12% in the number of young people being home schooled following the pandemic. Market analysis has also shown a high number of fixed and permanent exclusions, especially in the Northwest and Northeast of England. The Northeast for example had a Permanent Exclusion Rate of 0.08 of all students on roll, and a suspension rate of 6.97. Further data shows that there were 473,300 children and young people with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans as of January 2022, an increase of 10% from January 2021.
As part of their partnership work with Edge Hill, The Progress Group developed a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) for Progress Schools, enabling them to meet the demands of the sector whilst raising aspirations of young people. The VLE uses data from BKSB and Britannia, along with speech recognition and SSO technology to offer students an immersive and engaging virtual learning solution. Now in the second phase of development thanks to the Knowledge Transfer Partnership funding, the product will use artificial intelligence to help shape personalised learning and delivery, giving the business the opportunity to scale and provide a greater educational experience for students.
Transformation and Innovation Director of The Progress Group, Sumita Chopra, said of the investment.
“Our students are diverse in their needs and learning styles, and a native digital generation. Therefore, we need to use technology to create innovative education solutions that will appeal to generation alpha and enable those young people to build ambition and achieve their potential.
“Artificial intelligence can help us to advance our technical capabilities much faster, and we are excited for the next phase of development for our virtual learning environment.
“Already we’ve been able to improve the quality of education provided to our students by connecting them with subject experts digitally. Our new technology will allow us to advance and personalise their learning experience, inevitably supporting them to be more engaged with their education and take charge of their future.”
Through digitising their offering Progress Schools will be able to work with students beyond the physical classroom, to support those being home-schooled and even in time, those in the likes of youth offending settings.