The government’s EdTech Strategy 2019: a good start for schools?

London CLC responds to the government’s new EdTech Strategy and argues that context – and funding – is everything.

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The government launched its EdTech Strategy this week, designed to help tackle 10 key education challenges including reducing teachers’ marking workload, boosting training opportunities and levelling the playing field for people with special educational needs. The strategy also announces a new EdTech Leadership Group, revives the tech try-before-you-buy service LendEd, suggests new online training opportunities and announces a partnership with Nesta to find technological solutions for essay marking, formative assessment, parental engagement and timetabling technology. It helpfully links to case studies where edtech is making a difference in England’s schools and colleges.

A cautious welcome – but context is crucial

On the whole, London CLC welcomes this new strategy (though to what extent it is either new or, in fact, a strategy is up for debate). However, context is crucial. It should be clear by now that simply introducing technology into teachers’ lives will not necessarily result in what it is intended to do – in this case, reducing teacher workload. The risk that tech leads to unnecessary monitoring of data (leading to more work) is something about which schools should be mindful. Introducing a technology needs to be carefully thought out and it must have an identified and stated purpose and need, whether it is for admin or teaching and learning. Specifically, when technology is used in the classroom, it always needs an agreed pedagogy, as last week’s Education Endowment Foundation guidance report on Using Digital Technology to Improve Learning highlights (read more on that here: technology is not an end in itself). That vital focus on supporting learners is not immediately apparent in this strategy.

Too much power to vested interests?

In his speech launching the strategy at the Schools and Academies Show Damian Hinds talked about schools’ “cupboards of shame” full of unused tech. At London CLC we help schools avoid this common pitfall by working with teachers to test and trial new equipment and resources, lending kit to schools, providing examples of where technology enhances learning (and modelling it). That’s why we focus on the context rather than the technology. We always have a dialogue with school leaders and teachers about what they want to achieve and then – and only then – help them find the cheap or free technology solutions which might help. Will the ‘leading tech companies’ the government is inviting to make recommendations take the same objective approach? Or the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), the trade association for the UK’s education suppliers, which is highlighted as a partner in the strategy?

In addition, and particularly in relation to the very necessary aim of reducing teachers’ workloads, it is crucial to identify the non-tech factors in play, such as the influence of the senior leadership team and head teacher in respect of what is prioritised in terms of teacher workload. Local policy, practices and processes in any individual school, or even classroom, cannot be ignored in the drive to tech as they will always take precedence if not running in parallel.

CPD is critical

The strategy’s aim for “teachers to feel supported to use technology through high-quality continued professional development, and to have understanding of what is available and access to evidence of what works” is to be applauded. The links to Chartered College and EEF are a wise move. We see the impact every week on teachers, children and the wider school community, of the teacher CPD sessions we run at London CLC, which range from using technology for evidence and assessment to the ways that digital tools can be used in subject specific teaching such as English, maths or the arts and humanities.  Our TechPathways programme, funded by the Mayor of London, offers training for educators of 11-24-year-olds to bridge the skills gap between education and the 21st-century jobs market.

The strategy ranges widely, particularly in the ‘lifelong learning’ section, and we have seen firsthand the difference that widening accessibility and improving delivery of online basic skills training for adults (challenge nine) can make, through our Digital Champions project. According to the recent Carnegie Trust report on digital inclusion, Switched On, 10% of households have no access to the internet and 11.3 million people in the UK lack digital skills. Digital exclusion has far-reaching impacts, with digital skills and access are becoming fundamental to participating in society, accessing services and connecting with friends and family. Our three-year Digital Champions project with Lambeth was a huge success, delivering more than 2000 sessions, reaching more than 1200 people and seeing significant increases in knowledge and confidence. These kinds of projects work – but they need funding to do so.

The verdict

Which brings us to, finally, money. While £10m sounds like a large sum, if it was divided between England’s primary and secondary schools alone (and don’t forget that the strategy covers schools, colleges and universities) that’s less that £500 per school for edtech.

Our verdict? A welcome start that needs more emphasis on context and learners and less on the edtech industry. Oh, and of course, more money.

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