Who are you?

Jon Smith, chief executive and co-founder of Pobble.

What do you do?

Pobble is an approach to teaching writing, with tools that cut teacher workload whilst improving writing attainment. Pobble provides children with a purpose and audience for their writing, creating relevance and meaning, and encouraging writing to take place, even among reluctant learners.

What educational challenge are you trying to meet?

Lots of money has been spent on different curriculum areas, such as mathematics and language learning, but little on encouraging writing. Writing is so important because it is related to soft skill acquisition, such as the development of confidence, creativity and the ability to express oneself.

As former teachers we knew that using real examples of children’s hand-written work engaged children. This was our basis to start Pobble, sharing writing examples online to help teachers plan and using the idea of having writing published to motivate and excite the children.

There is a perception that boys are less inclined to write than girls. We noticed early on that the idea of having writing published online for a wider audience motivated the boys. Boys respond very well to Pobble anecdotally, however our research looks at the impact of Pobble on both girls and boys.

We use a baseline set of measurements to assess writing fluency and attitudes to writing and then test that as pupils go through the Pobble journey.

What impact did the EDUCATE programme have on your product and company?

It was transformational. When we joined, we had about 100,000 users every month, and this is now over 200,000. We switched from focussing on our wonderful anecdotal quotes about how much teachers loved it, to doing rigorous baseline assessments and measuring progress over time. It has completely changed the conversation around the product and the company.

Now, if a headteacher is sceptical about what we do, we have real results to show that it works and what pupils can achieve.  When we first joined EDUCATE we made it optional for a school to join the research project we were running on the programme. Now we measure the impact at every school, and this has changed the mentality of the whole team because measuring and evaluating the effectiveness of the product is something we do as a matter of course.

Our preliminary EDUCATE outcomes show a 36% reduction in lesson planning time for teachers, a 12% improvement in writing fluency and increased confidence and enjoyment of writing in children – all at a high level of statistical significance.

What impact has achieving an EdWard had on you personally, and on your company or product?

We have the Evidence-Aware EdWard and have applied for Evidence-Applied. During the Bett Show in January it was clear that people are aware of the EDUCATE programme and wanted to know more about the EdWards. It shows that we understand the importance of evidence and is another tick against a box showing that we are successful and have been recognised by a programme supported by UCL.

What advice would you give to prospective EDUCATE participants?

We were far enough into our product development to be able to take advantage of everything EDUCATE programme had to offer. It was perfect for us because it was a chance to formalise our qualitative research into something more rigorous. Although we could see improvements in SATs from Pobble schools, changes in attainment outcomes can take a long time to demonstrate and this gave us much better short-term measures.

My advice would be to try to work out where you are on your start-up journey and what is the next piece of the puzzle. You can’t do everything, and so you should only go into this process with a clear idea of what you want to get out of it. For every company it’s a personal journey and you need to be at the right point in time to get the optimal value from a fantastic programme like this.

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