DfES reshuffle to drive e-strategy

4th November 2005 at 00:00
Michael Stevenson will help DfES make e-strategy a reality, writes Chris Johnston

Michael Stevenson has been appointed as director of technology and chief information officer at the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), with responsibility for ensuring its e-strategy becomes a reality.

The new role, head of the Technology Group, within the department, which is at board level, reflects a drive to put technology at the heart of the education system.

Stevenson said the e-strategy, which was published in March, is a complex and demanding initiative involving a large number of government agencies.

"We thought we needed a strong organisational focus at the heart of this department, otherwise there is a risk that it would not happen," he said.

Another aspect of his role will be to better demonstrate the impact on learners of the huge investment made by the Government on technology in schools.

The third, and perhaps most difficult, challenge facing Stevenson is using technology to make learning a more personal experience for every student.

He agrees that innovations like learning management systems (learning platforms) will become crucial in the next few years and that major strides in personalised learning will have been made by 2010.

Schools can expect movement on the procurement front, though Stevenson stresses that no Whitehall-imposed directives will be issued on what they should buy.

Rather, the Strategic Technologies programme will help schools buy products that will be compatible with future purchases, he explained: "That's going to play a major role in helping the 'embattled head'."

The technology group will unite the developments that cut across the schools, further and higher education sectors, such as e-portfolios and the drive to create a bigger market for the digital learning content industry.

In recent weeks Stevenson has held a series of meetings with industry representatives to hear their views on the Government's educational technology initiatives. "It's the suppliers who are closest to learners, teachers, heads and are taking the financial risks. It's no good the DfES just handing down tablets from the mountain - we need to make policy with industry," he said.

Ray Barker, director of the British Educational Suppliers Association, said Stevenson was very keen to improve the DfES's relationship with industry, as he knew it was crucial to achieving the Government's goals.

The decision to set up the technology group signalled a more joined-up approach within the DfES, Barker said. "Having a director of technology at board level for the first time can only be a good thing."

While he agreed that centralised procurement was on the Government's agenda, he points out that the advent of learning platforms in schools will demand some consensus in purchasing. Failure to do so will result in incompatible systems that fail to achieve the desired effect and waste the money invested in them.

Becta, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, will continue to play a key role by acting as the lead agency for the e-strategy, Stevenson told TES Online. It will deliver some services as well as act as a co-ordinating body.

He paid tribute to Owen Lynch, who last month announced that he will retire as chief executive in March, after founding the organisation and leading it for the past eight years. "His vision and determination has done a great deal to take the education system forward."

Owen Lynch thanked the colleagues, teachers and industry representatives who had helped transform the use of ICT from peripheral experimentation to an indispensable part of the education system.

Becta had never been more assured of its future direction. "If there is ever a good time to go, then this is it," he said.

Michael Stevenson joined the DfES as director of strategy and communications in early 2003 after resigning from the BBC where he was joint director of factual and learning. He left following controversy over the development of the broadcaster's Digital Curriculum for schools.

www.dfes.gov.uktechnologydsp_reflections.shtml

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