On 3 April 2019, the DfE published an EdTech strategy on helping the education sector realise the importance of technology. Underpinning this strategy, is the recognition that we are living in a digitally enabled world where technology is part of our daily lives. To meet growing technological demands, the government is committed to upskilling the education sector and exploring the benefits that technology can bring.
This article summarises everything you need to know about the strategy, including the main challenges faced by the education sector and the government’s commitments to overcome them.
Securing the digital infrastructure
Internet connectivity is one of the key barriers to implementing technology effectively. To address this issue, the government aims to encourage two things: access to modern broadband infrastructure and movement to ‘the cloud’.
Modern broadband infrastructure
The government is working with industry and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to accelerate the full-fibre internet connectivity rollout for all schools in England. The DfE and DCMS have identified schools where they will accelerate connectivity by funding a new full-fibre connection over the next two years.
Schools can use the guidance published by the DfE to help them with the key questions and issues to consider when implementing infrastructure.
Movement to ‘the cloud’
All schools are encouraged to actively consider and evaluate the benefits of moving to a cloud-based approach for their IT systems – these systems are usually more secure, cheaper to run and enable more flexible working. More information can be found here.
Developing digital capability and skills
The government recognises that technology can be overwhelming and one of the main barriers to adapting technology is ensuring that teachers have adequate training available.
To overcome this challenge, CPD will be implemented for teachers, ensuring they are supported to use technology and understand what is available and why it works. The following initiatives underpin this aim:
- Online training courses have been launched for teachers and leaders to help them understand how best to use technology
- A network of ‘demonstrator’ schools and colleges will be launched to showcase best practice and offer support for organisations that need it – the government wants every school to have the opportunity to visit one of these organisations
Supporting effective procurement
To help schools get the best value for money when purchasing technology, the government has developed recommended buying deals for schools, so they receive cheaper prices through pre-negotiated contacts – this includes seven different endorsed ICT deals.
Schools should use the ‘Buying for schools’ guidance to help with procurement – the government plans to make it easier for schools to use these deals and will assess the benefits of existing buying catalogues, reviewing how to signpost the best products.
The government will also:
- Launch an online lending library for EdTech software, where schools can try products before they buy them.
- Explore how to facilitate a better online marketplace for EdTech, to help schools connect with a wide range of trusted, quality products.
- Trial an offer of independent and tailored buying advice, which includes testing a service to directly manage procurement for schools.
Promoting digital safety
Schools must take steps to promote digital security and safety, ensuring they have the appropriate security procedures in place to safeguard their digital systems, staff and pupils. The DfE has published a data protection toolkit, which should be used to help schools with their digital security measures.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) provides advice and support on how to avoid computer security threats – schools should refer to their guidance to help them with their approach towards cybersecurity. The government will work with the NCSC to review and produce appropriate guidance for schools on cybersecurity.
A whitepaper created by the DCMS and Home Office will be published in due course, setting out a range of measures as to how they will tackle online risks, as well as clear responsibilities for tech companies to keep individuals safe online.
Developing a dynamic EdTech business sector
An EdTech leadership group will be established who will ensure the education sector can drive the delivery of the strategy. The DfE will work with the group to agree a plan by the end of the year, which includes how industry and the education sector will support the aims set out in the strategy.
A series of small ‘testbed’ schools and colleges in England will be established to allow EdTech businesses to test, pilot and prototype their products in schools. These schools will help to build evidence of what works to benefit both education and industry.
Supporting innovation through EdTech challenges
The commitments outlined in the strategy are all centred around fostering a culture where the education sector is better equipped to realise the benefits of technology and UK EdTech businesses can grow.
A series of “EdTech challenges” have been launched, which are designed to support partnership between the EdTech industry and the education sector. The challenges are as follows:
- Challenge 1 – improve parental engagement and communication, whilst cutting related teacher workload by up to five hours per term
- Challenge 2 – show how technology can facilitate part-time and flexible working patterns in schools, including through the use of time-tabling tools
- Challenge 3 – cut teacher time spent preparing, marking and analysing in-class assessments and homework by two hours per week or more
- Challenge 4 – show that technology can reduce teacher time spent on essay marking for mock GCSE exams by at least 20 percent
- Challenge 5 – identify how anti-cheating software can be developed and improved to tackle the problem of essay mills (the process of academic fraud, i.e. procuring a third party to write a piece of work on a pupil’s behalf)
- Challenge 6 – challenge the research community to identify the best technology proven to help level the playing field for learners with SEND
- Challenge 7 – demonstrate how technology can support schools and teachers to identify their development needs and support more flexible CPD
Learning throughout life
- Challenge 8 – prove that the use of home learning early years apps contributes to improved literacy and communications skills for disadvantaged children
- Challenge 9 – widen accessibility and improve delivery of online basic skills training for adults
- Challenge 10 – demonstrate how artificial intelligence can support the effective delivery of online learning and training for adults
To support each of these challenges, the government will develop a series of innovation competitions to promote product development in areas where the existing market offer is not yet well developed – businesses in the EdTech industry will be invited to bid for funds to develop, test or refine these products and services. It is expected that the winning bidders would work in partnership with the education sector to build their understanding of what works.
The ‘testbed’ organisations, EdTech leadership group and the demonstrator schools and colleges, will also be used to address these challenges.
Improving the DfE’s digital services
The DfE is working to develop new digital services – this includes the following:
- A national retraining scheme to help adults whose employment is at risk of automation, to upskill or retrain staff
- Exploring the needs of teachers in accessing quality curriculum materials
To help schools access information, the DfE will work on piloting ways of engaging users that brings together relevant information and easy-to-use services based on what users need. Initially, the focus will be on how to improve the services available for teachers and parents, based on their feedback.
- Read the DfE’s full strategy here.
- Make use of the following guidance from the DfE:
DfE (2019) ‘Realising the potential of technology in education’