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Exclusive: Ed tech full of 'snake oil', research chief claims

Sir Kevan Collins has said that events such as Bett – the world's biggest ed tech show – allow education resources to be marketed to schools even if they harm pupils

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Sir Kevan Collins has said that events such as Bett – the world's biggest ed tech show – allow education resources to be marketed to schools even if they harm pupils

The chief executive of the government-backed research fund – the Education Endowment Foundation – has criticised ed tech events like Bett, the annual event, dismissing it as an “Ikea of education”, where “wonders and snake oil” are sold without evidence.

Speaking at a debate about the use of evidence-informed practice in the classroom, organised by UCL Institute of Education and supported by Tes, Sir Kevan Collins responded to a mention of Bett by saying: “These Ikeas of education – these endless wares and wonders you can buy to solve every problem.”

He added: “I’m very nervous about the unleashing of the market – endless brochures and wonders and snake oil that comes towards us.”

Addressing the audience, Sir Kevan pointed out that, in medicine, potential treatments must go through a set of trials before being made available to the public.

By contrast: “In education, of course, we could have just sat in groups and invented an education resource – and tomorrow sold it to a school we liked.

“So there’s no control. There’s no obligation to require that this does no harm, which it can do.”

'Unleashing nonsense'

This, he said, is what happened with Brain Gym, the once ubiquitous but now discredited education resource. “How did Brain Gym happen?” he said. “We let it in.

“How do we build the capacity to demand that the evidence is provided before we unleash some of this nonsense on our children?”

Bett, the annual education-technology show, opens today at the Excel exhibition centre in East London. It includes stalls or presentations from almost 1,000 education companies and start-ups.

Bett organisers have been contacted for comment.

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