Google: England behind on edtech from start of crisis

Unlike in other nations, school staff in England lacked training in digital platforms when the pandemic hit, says Google education leader

Amy Gibbons

Remote learning during Covid-19 crisis

England lagged behind other UK nations from the start of the Covid-19 crisis because it lacked a national edtech platform, Google has said.

James Leonard, head of education at Google UK, said many English schools were held up by a shortage of technical training as they did not have access to the kind of national platforms found in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Speaking at today's Westminster Education Forum on the future of edtech in England, Mr Leonard said a number of schools were "caught out in the rain" partly due to the "decentralised nature of the system", and partly because "the focus on standards in some ways made the use of edtech a bit risky".

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"In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, these education systems were really well positioned for digital because they'd made the considerate investment in digital platforms, long before Covid-19," he said.

"Welsh government had invested in Hwb, access to G Suite for Education, to Office 365, and to a number of other edtech tools for every student in Wales. The exact same in Scotland with the Glow platform. And the exact same in Northern Ireland with C2k. 

"And so the growth that we saw in the weeks just preceding lockdown and going into lockdown in these national platforms was exponential because there was little to none, if any, technical barrier or legal barrier or project management barrier to get these platforms up and running."

He continued: "In England in particular, because of the decentralised nature of the system, because of an existing network of managed service providers and ICT providers who kind of kept schools on premise because that was what their business model survived on, and in part because…the focus on standards in some ways made the use of edtech a bit risky, we saw a number of schools caught out in the rain, basically.

"And a lack of technical experience, and a lack of training from our perspective, slowed the move to a fully digital delivery in England, in comparison to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, though, as I mentioned, there were bright spots.

"So, as an industry, we recognised this and worked with the Department for Education to figure out a way to get English schools to a level of baseline digital platform – of baseline edtech – in order to maintain school continuity."

In April, the government was urged to develop a national edtech platform to support schools "at times of extraordinary upheaval" amid the coronavirus crisis.

The "educator-designed and led" platform would equip schools with "useful, secure and reliable resources", bringing England's edtech offer in line with those of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, according to a new report from HomeLearningUK.

England is currently the only UK nation without a national edtech hub.

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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