A spotlight on the EdTech Strategy

The government wants to ensure the education sector can take advantage of the opportunities available through technology. Its EdTech Strategy outlines the support it will give schools to help them do this. Education Business examines the strategy

Through its EdTech Strategy, the government wants to support and enable schools to use technology in a way that cuts workload, creates efficiencies, removes barriers to education and ultimately drives improvements in educational outcomes.

But it recognises that schools, colleges, universities and other providers face a range of barriers to integrating technology, such as slow internet connections and outdated internal networking and devices. The strategy aims to address these challenges.
At the same time, the government is offering support to the EdTech companies, acknowledging that innovation is sometimes hard without schools willing to test and buy EdTech. The strategy says it will “support the development of a vibrant EdTech business sector in the UK to provide proven, high-quality products that meet the needs of educators and foster a pipeline of fresh ideas.”

Tech to tackle challenges

The Department for Education wants tech firms to work with the education sector and create solutions to tackle key education challenges.
such as reducing teachers’ marking workload, having time to train and  improving outcomes for those with SEND.
When launching the strategy, Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: “We are living in a digital world with technology transforming the way we live our lives – both at home and in the workplace. But we must never think about technology for its own sake. Technology is an enabler and an enhancer. For too long in education, technology has been seen as something that adds to a teacher’s workload rather than helps to ease.
“This strategy is just the first step in making sure the education sector is able to take advantage of all of the opportunities available through EdTech. We now call on schools, businesses and technology developers to realise the huge potential of technology to transform our schools so that teachers have the time to focus on teaching, their own professional development, and – crucially – are able to cater to the needs of every single one of their pupils.”
Director of corporate strategy at Ofsted, Chris Jones, said: “The government’s EdTech strategy highlights some exciting opportunities for teachers to harness technology that allows them to dedicate their energies to the substance of education: effective teaching of the curriculum that produces great outcomes for pupils.”

Getting the infrastructure right

The strategy acknowledges that for this vision to work, schools need to have the right infrastructure in place, as slow internet connections and outdated equipment is holding schools back.

Mary See, headteacher at Cheselbourne Village School in Dorset, explains the difference it makes having a fast connection, especially in a remote area: “Having new super-fast broadband reach our school has revolutionised the way we work. The much faster and reliable access to the web has allowed staff to work more efficiently, while the children, although still geographically remote, are no longer technologically isolated and will have the same opportunities as their urban peers in preparing for a more technological future.”
The government has a goal of a nationwide full-fibre infrastructure by 2033. For schools most in need however, it is looking to fund full-fibre connections over the next two years. This work is part of DCMS’s Rural Gigabit Connectivity Programme. It represents the start of government’s “Outside-In” approach, which was identified in the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review as necessary to ensure future-proof connectivity to areas that are not likely to receive commercial full-deployment by 2033.
The actual internet speed experienced is also affected by the technology and Wi-Fi arrangements in place within institutions. With the growing number of devices in schools, colleges, universities and other providers, the demand for robust and reliable local networking and high-speed Wi-Fi is greater than ever before.
The strategy acknowledges that schools, colleges and universities can struggle with the interruption to teaching and the wasted time caused by buffering and slow upload, download and login times that accompany poorly implemented local networking and Wi-Fi.
The DfE has published guidance documents that will help steer schools, colleges and other providers through the key questions and issues to consider when implementing technology infrastructure, including broadband and local infrastructure issues. In addition, Jisc provide colleges and universities with infrastructure, training, guidance, consultancy and services such as Eduroam, which delivers secure and seamless internet access across locations and devices.
Securing high speed internet connectivity opens opportunities for education providers to move to cloud-based services and storage. Cloud technology allows information and services to be stored, maintained and managed remotely through the internet rather than on a local hard drive or an on-site serve.
The DfE is recommending that all education providers actively consider and evaluate the benefits of moving to a cloud-based approach for their IT system (moving away from relying solely on ‘on-site’ servers). Cloud-based systems are usually more secure, cheaper to run and enable more flexible working.

The skills to make it happen
The strategy also acknowledges that the teachers and staff may need to improve their own digital skills. The strategy says: “We know that many leaders can struggle to know where to start with technology; they may be experts in education but are often not experts in digital technology.”
Boosting training is therefore a central part of the EdTech strategy.
Online training courses for teachers and school leaders, produced by the Chartered College of Teaching, will provide access to high-quality continued professional development and equip them with the knowledge required to make the best use of technology.
To learn from others, part of the strategy is to launch a network of ‘demonstrator’ schools and colleges to provide peer-to-peer support and training. The strategy says it wants every school and college to have the opportunity to visit one of these schools or colleges and see the impact of effectively used technology for themselves.
The DfE is also creating an EdTech Leadership Group, drawing in industry expertise and support and learning from schools and college leaders about what they would find useful.
The BESA LearnED programme, which is a roadshow of events showcasing EdTech products and best practice, is also supported by the DfE. These are free to teachers and education leaders and provide the opportunity to see a range of technology in action in the classroom as well as to hear from the experience of other educators on their EdTech journey.
BESA director general, Caroline Wright, said: “It is deeply worrying that in 2019 too many teachers are still apprehensive of using technology as a teaching aid. They may fear the humiliation of attempting to use digital devices in front of technologically tooled-up students because of an aging and antiquated school network infrastructure, or, most often in my experience, they simply don’t dare to go digital because they just don’t know where to start or who to ask for help.
“This strategy is a welcome move to help schools’ better use technology to support teaching and learning outcomes.
“The DfE’s work partnering with key teaching and industry bodies to focus on practical school-led solutions, showcasing best-practice uses of technology in schools, and teacher tech training in peer-to-peer groups will help raise both the confidence and competence of the teaching workforce.”

Knowing what to buy
The strategy points out that the education sector spends £470 million on software and hardware for learning.
With such high spend, a key part of the strategy is to help schools get it right when buying EdTech.
Working with the British Education Suppliers Association (BESA), schools will also receive help to identify the right products when buying technology through LendED, a free service which enables schools to try educational software before they buy them.
This platform will help to ensure that schools and colleges are getting the best value from the hundreds of millions spent every year on digital technology, to ultimately improve student outcomes, reduce teacher workload and help schools save money.
The DfE has also developed recommended buying deals for schools so they can get cheaper prices through pre-negotiated contracts for a wide range of products and services, including education technology. This includes seven different endorsed ICT deals covering a wide range of technology products and services.
The ‘G-Cloud deal’, for example, is helpful for schools that want to purchase either cloud-based technology that is not included in standard buying catalogues, or cloud support to help move information and services to the cloud or provide ongoing support.
To ensure IT security and data protection, the DfE has published a data protection toolkit which helps guide schools through key data protection activity, including compliance with the Data Protection Act 2018, by developing policies and processes for data management, from collecting and handling their data through to the ability to respond quickly and appropriately to data breaches.
Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Chris Skidmore said: “As the way we interact with technology is changing at an ever-increasing rate, it is more important than ever that the education system keeps pace with the change around us. We need to work with leading head teachers, education experts and tech companies to unlock the benefits for our children and young people.
“The collaboration enabled by this strategy will provide an unprecedented boost to the role technology has to play in schools, colleges and universities, and support the UK’s dynamic EdTech sector to develop an ever-wider range of exciting products and technology solutions.”

Helping industry
EdTech businesses are integral to the success of the strategy. But for this sector to thrive, it needs help getting its products tested, and ultimately, into schools.
The report says that one of the main challenges felt by both businesses and schools is the issue of market fragmentation. Thousands of schools, multi academy trusts and colleges in England procure goods and services individually and it is difficult for businesses to engage efficiently to build a customer base.
The activity described throughout this strategy will pay a crucial role in driving demand and developing this vibrant market, directly benefitting EdTech businesses. The DfE and BEIS will help businesses understand school procurement approaches in England so they can respond accordingly.
EdTech businesses often struggle to test, pilot and prototype their products. within schools due to a lack of time from teachers and school leaders. This means the feedback that EdTech products and services developers receive can be limited, which in turn hinders the ability of EdTech innovators to evaluate and refine their offer.
The strategy therefore says the DfE will work with industry, research and education groups to establish small ‘testbeds’ of schools and colleges in England to support the development, piloting and evaluation of technology.
Head of education Europe at Google Liz Sproat said: “The strategy takes an important stance in supporting schools, colleges and universities to invest in technology, not only for the benefit of educators, but for their students too.
“From our work across Europe we are seeing how schools are embracing technology with impressive results. These positive developments come as a result of coupling technology with investment in professional growth, equipping educators with the knowledge they need to use technology effectively.
“It is encouraging to see how the DfE is pledging to support schools, not just with investment, but guidance on infrastructure and teacher skills to assist them in taking full advantage of the exciting array of technologies on offer.”

Special educational needs

For some children, technology can have a profound effect in opening up channels of communication – making learning accessible in ways not possible without the intervention of technology. Technology has the power to bring children with certain special education needs new independence in learning and communicating.
As part of the strategy, leading assistive technology developers and education experts will make recommendations to the government on ways to harness the power of technology to support learners with conditions such as dyslexia or autistic spectrum disorders to thrive in the classroom.
Government will also work in partnership with the UK’s innovation foundation Nesta, to find technological solutions on essay marking, formative assessment, parental engagement and timetabling technology – four of the ten EdTech challenges set out in the plan.
Director of education at Nesta, Joysy John said: “We welcome the launch of the Department for Education’s new EdTech Strategy, which will bring much needed coordination to the field. Part of the Government’s new EdTech Fund will be supported by Nesta to bring together schools and the tech industry, building an evidence base and supporting the EdTech products that really work.
“Schools and colleges will be involved every step of the way in product development and implementation, and we believe this is a crucial step in creating a smarter system that benefits both teachers and students.”
UK director of education for Microsoft, Chris Rothwell, added: “Technology is having incredible impact in all aspects of education today, but there is always more to be done. We welcome the announcement of an EdTech strategy for England, with its focus on building on existing best practice and lowering barriers to adoption for all.”