You may have missed it during the summer heatwave, but a very English education technology revolution was announced in the Daily Telegraph. It was the conclusion of intense months of work. There had been a fair amount of Post-it notes, flip charts and workshops involving educators, stakeholders, policymakers and businesses. There was positive support from a small team of Department for Education civil servants, all with a keen interest in education technology.
Education secretary Damian Hinds demonstrated that he had “got” education technology by recognising that: “There is clear, untapped potential for schools, colleges and universities to benefit even further from the power of technology to support students to learn, reduce teachers’ workload and save money.”
Why did that take so long?
In 2010, the incoming the coalition government got started on major education reform with a “bonfire of the quangos”. In some ways good, it also led to the demise of Becta (originally the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency), the organisation tasked with supporting schools to use education technology, and meant we lost an important national conversation about education technology.
Despite the computing curriculum and a big dose of “robot fever”, there had been no real long-standing leadership for education technology in the DfE for years. Various task forces had seemed to suggest a start, stop mentality from government. In that time, England has fallen behind Wales and Scotland, which have, for example, created and developed national platforms – Hwb and GLOW respectively – to share and explore the impact of edtech on teaching and learning.
Systemic change is hard and it’s not that these nations have all the answers, but in England we desperately need to restart the discussion at a national level to find out properly how education technology can make a meaningful contribution. What’s also striking is that since 2010 there has been growing recognition, from other parts of Whitehall, that edtech is also important for the UK’s economy, for jobs and exports. Most recently, in 2017 the Digital Strategy, honed by Matt Hancock, MP, stated: “Education technology is one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK, accounting for 4 per cent of digital companies, and UK businesses have become world leaders in developing innovative new technologies for schools.”
A national strategy for edtech
This is welcome but it urgently needs to become part of a wider strategy for edtech so that there is a coherent approach across government. It is energetic minister Sam Gyimah who is charged with taking this forward.
Despite the wilderness years, progress has been made in the use of edtech by schools. It should no longer surprise that there are real areas of promise across maths with Sumdog, Hegarty Maths, Times Tables Rockstars and Doodle Maths. In reading, the support from ReadingWise and Pobble is impressive and the creative inspiration offered by Night Zookeeper or the immersive Now>Press>Play delights learners.
Scotland’s SpyQuest and Brighton’s Curiscope use the latest augmented and virtual reality for good. Esri UK leads the way in free geography mapping for schools and Crick Software pioneers inclusive edtech. UK organisations FutureLearn, Micro:bit and Raspberry Pi open up learning in new ways to millions of people across the globe.
There are also networks to support the adoption and understanding of edtech by schools and colleges. In further education, the Blended Learning Consortium is a positive example and came out of the good work by FELTAG (the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group). And market-leading Apple, Google and Microsoft products invest in growing networks of trained, certified, educator ambassadors. But surely these corporate networks can work more effectively together to support adoption and understanding of edtech across schools, colleges and universities? Can we, for instance, create meaningful regional hubs of expertise across the country?
It is against this backdrop, that Edtech50 Schools, supported by Intel, is launching its hunt to find schools that demonstrate excellent digital leadership and practice. It’s needed because the education minister’s summer announcement is a start rather than an endpoint.
Our vision for Edtech 50 schools is that it will help to create a national, school-led network, and one that has the expertise to be heeded by the DfE. It needs to embrace a broad vision and be alive to the possibilities that technology can bring to every aspect of school life – for too long we have ignored the fact that educational technology can rationalise the back office as much as enliven and focus learning and properly support the teacher.
The positive work of groups of committed individuals, the Independent Schools Council Digital Strategy Group, the London Grid for Learning, schools and some multi-academy trusts suggest real opportunity and potential in strengthening the grassroots but with a national focus. Investing in innovation and educators to guide their peers reaps dividends.
Let’s hope this is more than just a short-lived, summer holiday edtech romance.
As we continue with another round of positive consultations on this education technology revolution; it’s good to know it’s already started around the country and beyond.
Now it needs focus, investment and leadership. And ambition.
Ty Goddard is director of the education foundation that has launched Edtech50 Schools, a UK search for the schools making best use of education technology. To submit a nomination, click here.