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Realising the potential of technology in education

The Department for Education embraces the EdTech agenda.

Hot off the press is the long-awaited DfE policy document – declaring the Department’s EdTech strategy.

Addressed to both education providers and the technology industry, the document sets out a road map that it wishes to see the English education system follow.

In its scoping definition, the strategy portrays  EdTech as a supporting tool for teaching and management of schools and other education institutions. DfE is not yet ready to recognise technological development as at a stage at which technology is ready to deliver the teaching – although the first reference to Artificial Intelligence is to be found just a few paragraphs further on in the document!

DfE aims to support and enable the development and embedding of technology in ways that:

  • cut workload;
  • foster efficiencies; and
  • remove barriers to education;

ultimately driving improvement in educational outcomes.

The EdTech sector will rightly argue that all of these aims are already being delivered.  What is required is a far wider appreciation of the outcomes available and a quality of technical infrastructure that facilitates.

An updated guide to procuring broadband services for schools has also just been released by the Department, click here to view.

Significantly, the strategy recognises that it is not only the encouragement of use of technology by educators that needs to be promoted, but also the capability to procure effectively.

Encouraging the development of a vision for the application of technology identifying and addressing barriers, followed by a procurement and implementation exercise, is regarded as vital.

The ambition set is:

“to build the best EdTech eco system in the world”

So what can be taken from this strategy as the key pointers given to educators?

These can be summarised as:

  • ensuring high quality infrastructure – broadband capability that facilitates maximum impact for EdTech tools;
  • moving to the cloud – to increase accessibility and flexibility;
  • harnessing the ability within technology to provide “virtual assistants” access. Bolton College is an early and successful adopter and with many hours of both admin and out of hours teaching time saved, whilst assuring quality education is delivered;
  • the importance of top-down promotion of EdTech – good leaders should be regarded as those that place a strong focus on EdTech to improve processes in teaching.

A more sensitive issue touched upon is the facilitation of “a better online marketplace”.  The Government Procurement Agency, Crown Commercial Services, toyed with developing an education software catalogue under competitive procurement rules.  This would have led to preferred suppliers under some form of evaluation process.

The proposal was, however, pulled from the current education technology procurement exercise. The Department is, however, minded to provide a directly managed procurement service for schools, currently being trialled in two regions.

How far the Department will go in intervening and influencing the marketplace will be an important issue in the coming months. The Department is committing a budget of £10m towards boosting use of technology in schools. DfE has a recent track record of seeking to influence purchasing decisions – primarily through evaluation panels and subsidy arrangements for approved products.

Assessment of effective EdTech to support education bodies in their purchasing decisions is of vital importance and perhaps not given sufficient emphasis within the strategy.

Organisations such as the Education Endowment Foundation and UCL Educate play important roles in the exercise of validating the relevance of particular products to enhancing educational outcomes. The Department will want to be careful in the measures that it takes to encourage and not supress the EdTech ecosystem that it looks to see delivered.

In a particularly positive proposal DfE intends to support the development of test beds for software development, piloting and implementation involving small groups of schools within trials.

It is helpful that the strategy concludes with a 19-point summary of key commitments that DfE is willing to sign up to and see progress. These will be overseen by an EdTech Leadership Group that the department is now focussed on establishing.

Overall the publication of this strategy and the thinking that lies behind it should be welcomed both by education bodies as and the EdTech community whose vision and determination to contribute to much needed improvements in our education system are likely to play a hugely significant role in the future of education.

To read the strategy document click here.

For further information, please get in touch.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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