Software aims to help teachers plan aspects of the new Junior Cycle, writes Trish Dromey.
Maynooth start-up SchoolWise is confident it will get top marks from schools for new technology designed to make the implementation of the new Junior Cycle as painless as possible.
The performance and learning management platform for secondary schools developed by the three-year-old company is currently being used in over 50 schools around Ireland.
“By the end of this academic year we aim to grow the number to over 120 — we are now actively fundraising and plan to pilot software in UK this academic year and launch in the UK market in the 2020/21 academic year,’’ says company co-founder Leslie Turner.
Explaining that the key change being introduced by Junior Cycle reform is a shift away from a teaching system based on course content to one where the focus is on learning outcomes, he says that the company’s platform allows teachers to plan the curriculum and guides them through the entire process step by step.
The platform also allows for the delivery of lesson plans, for assessment and academic tracking of student performance and enables teachers to meet the new reporting and compliance requirements.
“It ensures that students reach the specified targets set out in the new Junior Cycle” added Mr Turner.
While the platform has been specifically designed to suit the Irish curriculum, the company has already begun making plans to expand in to the UK market.
“We exhibited at BETT, Europe’s largest education technology event last year to test the market. We estimate that only 10% of the platform needs to be adapted to suit the UK curriculum,” he said.
Mr Turner says that educational reform and the adoption of stricter performance and compliance requirements has created a growing demand for this type of technology globally.
Five years ago when Junior Cycle reform was still at the planning stages, Mr Turner and company co-founder Liam Fennelly identified an opportunity to develop the technology which could be used to help implement the changes.
Friends who both had companies providing training and consultancy services, and developing technology solutions for the education sector, the two men decided to team up and set up new company for this purpose.
“We talked to school management, principals and the NCCA — the department of education body responsible for developing the new Junior Cycle and they gave us guidance,” said Mr Turner.
SchoolWise, which according to Mr Turner, was the first Irish company to develop curriculum management software specifically for the Irish education system, was established at MaynoothWorks incubation in February 2015.
Using their own funding, the founders hired a developer and set to work on developing the curriculum planning software, which was piloted at 15 schools around Leinster the following academic year.
“We had assistance from principals and schools to build out the platform and in September 2017 we were ready for launch,’’ said Mr Turner, adding that the company received €50,000 in funding from Enterprise Ireland which helped it employ four additional people bringing the staff size up to seven.
SchoolWise used a combination of mail shots and cold calling to get the attention of school management starting with schools in Leinster before targeting others around the country.
“We sell to schools with 15 students as well as some with over 1,000. Clients include the Presentation College in
Athenry, Sion Hill in Blackrock as well as Gael Colaiste in Limerick,” said Mr Turner.
With the reopening of schools, he says that SchoolWise is now busy training teachers in schools which signed up the platform last year as well as targeting new schools.
CompuB has now become a reseller for the software which is sold on an annual licence to schools based on the number of students.
Talking to potential investors with a view to raising over €750,000, Mr Turner says the company is planning to grow the staff size to 12 over the next 18 months.
“Our aim is to be the dominant player in the Irish market and to get a foothold in the UK market,” he said.